The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®, is a form students can fill out each school year to apply for grants, work-study, or loans from the government for higher education pursuits.
By not filling it out, or missing the FAFSA deadline, you may be turning away money for college. The FAFSA is also used by many states and individual schools to help determine if you qualify for aid as well. It’s important to fill out your FAFSA as early as possible and not miss the important application deadlines, as there is a limited amount of aid available.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is an application for federal student aid from the U.S. government. The type of federal student aid awarded is determined based on income, usually the income of the parents of the student, or the student’s own income if they are independent.
The FAFSA lets you apply for student aid in the form of federal student loans, but also grants and scholarships, plus work-study jobs. It’s important when applying to schools to consider all of the costs involved.
You can estimate your financial aid online ahead of time, so you can make an educated decision about where to attend school. If you are already in school, remember that the FAFSA must be filled out every year, since income and tax information might have changed.
In general, the eligibility requirements for federal aid state that for most programs, you must demonstrate financial need. You must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen, have a valid Social Security number, and if male, be enrolled with the Selective Service.
You also must be enrolled or accepted as a regular student in an eligible degree program. (You can read about the basic eligibility requirements here .)
The FAFSA form will need information about you, your family, and your financial situation. This includes Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, and federal tax information or tax returns for yourself or your parents if you are a dependent student. Plus, this includes information on bank account balances such as savings, investments, and other financial information.
Important FAFSA Application Deadlines
The FAFSA becomes available almost a full year in advance of the year that aid is awarded. When is the deadline for FAFSA? While the final deadline for FAFSA submission is June 30, the FAFSA becomes available on October 1. That’s earlier than most individual college deadlines for application.
It’s recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 for next school year’s aid, to not miss out on any available funds. For instance, for the 2019 to 2020 school year, the FAFSA became available October 1, 2018, though the final deadline to submit is June 30, 2020, at the end of the academic year it applies to.
But because some federal student aid programs have limited funds, the U.S. Department of Education recommends you apply as soon as you can. Plus, there are often earlier school and state deadlines to worry about first.
Students typically have around 21 months to file the FAFSA, but individual schools may have their own, earlier deadlines. If you are applying to many different colleges, make sure to look up each school’s FAFSA deadline, and apply by the earliest one.
These priority deadlines mean you need to get your FAFSA application in by the school’s date in order to be considered for the most possible aid. While filling out your FAFSA, you can include every school you are considering, even if you haven’t been accepted to college yet.
Individual state deadlines can be found from the U.S. Department of Education. Some states have strict cutoffs, while others are just best-practice suggestions—so check carefully. Many states have limited funds to offer as well. You should look up the state you reside in currently, not the state in which you’re applying for school.
Your Next Steps After Submitting the FAFSA
So what happens after you hit “submit” on your FAFSA? First, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which summarizes the data and information you just submitted. This comes anytime from three days to three weeks after you fill out your FAFSA.
Check if the information is correct (and if not, you can make corrections online if needed). The SAR will not tell you how much financial aid you’ll receive, nor will it detail the income or tax information you submitted.
Instead, if you listed a school on your FAFSA form and have been accepted, or you are currently enrolled in school, the school will calculate your aid and send you an electronic or paper aid offer (sometimes called an award letter) telling you the amount of aid you’re eligible for at that school.
Timing of the aid offer depends on the school and can be as soon as the winter before the next academic year, or as late as the summer before you start. It all depends on when you apply and how the school schedules it out.
Receiving financial aid can be a great relief when it comes to paying for higher education. But keep in mind that federal aid can come in the form of grants, work-study, and student loans. And Direct Loans are the most common federal student loans available for students looking for financial aid.
If you don’t qualify for enough financial aid and you are still looking for ways to finance your education you could look into scholarships, grants, or even private student loans. For example, SoFi makes the process simple—so paying for school is stress-free. Plus, SoFi has flexible repayment options to help you find the loan that fits your budget.
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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.