Welcome to SoFi’s FAFSA Guide

This information is subject to change and does not constitute legal or financial advice; it’s educational in nature and may not cover all situations. We recommend you contact the financial aid office of the school(s) you are interested in attending or visit studentaid.gov for more information. SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate does not offer federal student loans and this resource is not affiliated with the Department of Education. FAFSA is a registered service mark of the US Department of Education. CSS Profile is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with and does not endorse SoFi.

The first step to applying for federal financial aid (grants, need-based scholarships, federal student loans, and work-study jobs) is filling out your FAFSA®. Some states and schools also require it for their grants, merit-based scholarships, and loans. We’re here to help make the application process easier with FAQs, step-by-step instructions, explainers, and more.

What Is the FAFSA?

Let’s start with the basics: FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and must be submitted every year a student hopes to receive federal financial aid. Many states and schools also require FAFSA information for their funding and scholarships.

The form is available online at Studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa . You can also print out the application and mail it in. The form asks questions about the income and finances of the student (and spouse if married) and the student’s parents, plus questions about the student’s education plans. According to StudentAid.gov, it takes most people less than an hour to fill out the FAFSA form.

For the upcoming academic year (2024-25), you can submit the form in December 2023. Generally, the federal deadline is June 30 (before the academic year starts), but states and schools may have earlier deadlines. Also, keep in mind that funding is limited and often given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Want to Learn More?

Here are some articles that go into more depth covering FAFSA basics:

How Do Student Loans Work?

Whether you’re starting college or going back for another degree, keeping the different loan types straight in your head is not easy. There are two types of loans — federal student loans and private student loans. Federal student loans are given by the U.S. Department of Education, whereas private student loans are given through a private lender and do not require you to complete the FAFSA.

Federal loans have amount limits and eligibility requirements, including financial need for certain loans. Private loans generally require a credit check, proof of income, and/or a cosigner.

Here’s a guide to the different types of federal student loans available.

Federal Student Loans

Direct Subsidized Loan

Direct Subsidized Loans are for undergraduate students who have financial need. The “subsidized” part means the government pays your interest while you’re in school and for a six-month grace period after graduation.

Learn More

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are offered to undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree-seeking students, and financial need is not required.

Learn More

Direct PLUS Loan

Direct PLUS Loans are offered to parents paying for their dependent child’s undergraduate education and to graduate or professional degree-seeking students.

Learn More

Private Student Loans

An additional source for education funding are private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Private student loans do not require a FAFSA application and are often used as a supplement to federal aid.

Private Student Loans 101

It can sometimes be difficult to determine which loan option will work best for you. These comparison articles may help you choose from federal, private, or both.

What Are the Requirements for Federal
Student Loans?

Below, we outline the basic requirements (set by law) to receive federal student loans and other federal aid. For a deeper dive, check out our student loan requirements article.

Financial Need

To qualify for many federal student aid programs, you must demonstrate that you have a financial need. Your financial need is determined by calculating the difference between the cost of attending a school (COA) and your Student Aid Index (SAI). Your COA will vary, of course, depending on the school, but your SAI will remain the same. A completed FAFSA is required to determine a student’s SAI.


You must be either a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen to apply for federal aid. Eligible non-citizens include U.S. nationals, U.S. permanent residents, or individuals with certain designations from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services.

Learn More

Social Security Number

It is required that applicants possess a valid Social Security number. There are exceptions for students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau.

Selective Service

Previously, most male students wishing to apply for federal student aid had to be registered with Selective Service. But with the passage of the FAFSA Simplification Act in late 2020 , this is no longer the case (having a drug-related conviction also no longer affects eligibility). With the 2023-24 FAFSA, the question asking males if they wanted to register for the Selective Service was removed, as well, and will continue to no longer appear on the FAFSA.

Enrollment Specifications

To receive federal aid, students must either be enrolled, or accepted for enrollment, in an eligible degree or certificate program. You must be enrolled as a “regular student,” meaning you have been accepted at the institution in order to obtain a degree, certificate, or other recognized education credential. Students must also be enrolled at least half-time to be eligible for Direct Loan Program funds.

Certification Statement

Part of the FAFSA includes signing a certification statement. This states that you do not have any federal student loans in default and you do not owe money on a federal grant. Signing this statement certifies that you will use any federal student aid you receive for educational purposes only.

Proof of Education

Students must prove that they are qualified to obtain a college education by showing they have a high school diploma, General Education Development (GED) certificate, completed high school education by a homeschool approved under state law, or are enrolled in an eligible career pathway program. Career pathway programs require that you also meet an “ability-to-benefit” alternative that you can learn more about here.

Learn More

Other Types of Student Aid

In addition to loans, student aid can also come in the form of grants, scholarships, and work-study jobs.

Important FAFSA Deadlines To Know

Now that you know the basics, let’s go through some important deadlines for the student aid process.

Important FAFSA Deadlines to Know

October 1

TThis is the date the FAFSA normally becomes available for the following school year. However, due to the changes being made to the FAFSA, the 2024-25 form will not be available until December 2023. It is recommended that you fill out your FAFSA as soon as possible to give you a chance to access all available funds. Need-based aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so it is in your best interest to apply before some of the funds run out.

June 30

This is the deadline to submit the FAFSA for the school year beginning that fall. You can still make corrections and updates until early September. For the 2023-2024 school year, the deadline is Sept. 14, 2024.

Deadlines by State

Each state has its own deadline for submitting the FAFSA form, and some state-specific grants have their own deadlines for submission, as well. To find the deadline for your state, check the official FAFSA website.

Learn More

Deadlines by College

In addition to state deadlines, colleges may also have other deadlines that vary by school. Check with the schools that you are interested in attending to ensure you submit your FAFSA on time.

Paying Back Student Loans

Once you have a student loan, how do you go about paying it back?

More Info on Financial Aid

When it comes to financial aid, there are many topics to cover. Here are some additional resources that can make the process easier.

SoFi Private Student Loans

Sometimes the cost of college can exceed the amount of federal aid you receive. That’s when you might consider a private student loan with SoFi. SoFi offers no-fee student loans with an easy application that can be done entirely online.

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender