Anyone looking for federal student aid must complete the FAFSA form. You don’t have to pay to complete it, as it’s free. Additionally, you’ll have access to different forms of financial aid as you pursue higher education.
But what does FAFSA stand for? FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Most colleges and universities require that you complete this form if you’re seeking any type of aid from your school or state.
If you decide to take out a private loan for financial aid, you may also need to complete this form. Here’s what you need to know about the FAFSA.
What’s the Difference Between Renewed and Starting a New FAFSA?
Every year that you apply for financial aid, you must complete the FAFSA. To save time, you can use the FAFSA renewal. This means you won’t need to complete the entire application year after year.
A bulk of the information you previously completed is automatically filled out for you.
When completing the FAFSA, you want to avoid making several mistakes. Make sure to do the following:
1. Register for an FSA ID. You should do this before you complete the FAFSA. This applies to any students filing as dependents. It also applies to their parents. They both need to complete an FSA ID or else they can’t sign off on their FAFSA application. Just keep in mind that this entire process may take 72 hours, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.
2. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). Any students and parents who completed a U.S. tax return can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to complete their FAFSA. This tool transfers information and data directly into their FAFSA forms.
3. Pay attention to deadlines. To avoid missing deadlines, apply early whenever possible. You can even apply on October 1st for the upcoming school year, nearly a whole year in advance. Remember that you can’t apply later than June 30th.
4. Know your social security number. You need to know your social security number to complete the FAFSA form. You also need your social security number to create your account username and password (your FSA ID).
5. List all schools. You can include as many as 10 schools on your FAFSA application, so be sure to include any schools you’re interested in applying to.
6. Don’t use nicknames when you apply. This means you should only use your legal name.
7. Renew your FAFSA yearly. Every single year you attend school (and require financial aid), you must renew your FAFSA.
8. Always list the marital status of your parents. If your custodial parent has a new spouse, be sure to include them.
9. Verify that all information is correct before submitting and complete all the fields required (if applicable). Don’t leave questions blank, if possible. Always answer as many questions as you can.
10. Sign your application. If you don’t sign your FAFSA, your Expected Family Contribution, or ECF, won’t be calculated. This means you won’t qualify for federal student aid until you sign your application. This means students and parents BOTH need to sign.
Although there are a lot of moving parts when applying to college, you can work with trusted professionals who are well-versed in the entire application process.
Now that you understand the answer to the question, “What is FAFSA?” along with some do’s and don’ts, it’s important to understand the basic criteria for being eligible. Keep all these points in mind when completing your FAFSA form:
- If you require financial aid, you need to be able to show this
- You must be a U.S. citizen; if not, you’ll need to be an eligible noncitizen
- You must have a social security number
- No matter what degree or certificate program you’re enrolling in, you must be a regular student
- Enrollment must be half-time or more for Direct Loans
- You must prove that you haven’t defaulted on any federal loans, and sign off on this statement
You also need to show that you’re qualified to earn a degree or certification. This means you need to have a high school diploma or other equivalent, as approved by your state. This can include a GED or homeschool transcript, as per your state’s guidelines.
If you are homeschooled, select “homeschooled” instead of selecting “high school diploma.” Your homeschool setting needs to be approved by your state’s homeschool laws and requirements, ensuring you’ve satisfied all requirements. Additionally, students who enroll in a career pathway program can also apply for a FAFSA.
Your ability to apply for and receive federal student aid is no longer contingent on your Selective Service status. This means that qualified males who don’t register for Selective Service can still receive financial aid, as per the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
The Expected Family Contribution — EFC for short — is calculated and decided by the government. This number reflects how much financial aid you can receive during any award year.
However, the EFC is being phased out. This means that come the 2024-2025 school year, it will be replaced by the Student Aid Index or SAI.
But what is the Student Aid Index, and why is it better?
Unlike the EFC, the SAI removes certain family members from the calculation. These family members are those already in college.
The SAI also makes it easier for students facing hardships to receive financial aid. Additionally, it expands the Federal Pell Grant. This means that more students than ever can access it, with eligibility occurring before college enrollment in some situations. Family size, income per household, and individual poverty levels on a state level are all considered.
What Is The FAFSA?
What’s FAFSA, exactly? In short, the FAFSA is a free form that colleges, universities, and other institutions use to determine how much federal financial aid — if any — that you qualify for. The majority of schools use FAFSA-qualifying information to determine how much aid they’ll personally give students.
If it seems like learning the FAFSA is overwhelming, know that you’re not alone. There’s a lot of college-related information to absorb, from qualifiers to the EFC (soon to be the SAI). Luckily, you don’t have to handle the college application process alone.
College Funding Professionals can help. We offer assistance to parents and students applying to college or another certification program. Our team of highly trained individuals explains each step of the process so you know what to complete and when. Join our free online Facebook Group to gain access to the best college planning advice anywhere.