FAFSA: What it is & Why it Matters
Last updated February 14, 2024
Need $$$ for college? Completing the FAFSA is the most important, reliable way to get it. You may have heard of the FAFSA before, but what exactly is it and what role does it play in helping you receive financial aid? We break down what you need to know about the FAFSA and why it matters!
What is the FAFSA? Why does it matter?
The FAFSA is a free government form that prospective and current college students fill out to be considered for financial aid. You must complete the FAFSA once a year– the year before starting college and each year you’re in college– to be eligible for any kind of aid.
When you submit your FAFSA, your family’s income, tax information, family size, and financial assets will be taken into consideration. The federal and state government, in addition to your college, then award you a certain amount of financial aid based on that information to help cover the costs of your education. The amount of financial aid you can or will receive each year is subject to change based on changes in your family’s income or circumstances. Regardless of what financial changes occur for you or your family in any given year, you must complete the FAFSA in order to receive financial aid for college.
What forms of financial aid can I receive by filling out the FAFSA?
- Grants: Eligibility for the Pell Grant is determined by completing the FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA is also a requirement for many state or institutional grants. Be sure to pay attention to state or college deadlines to remain eligible.
- Scholarships: Completing the FAFSA is often one of the main requirements to be considered for institutional, state-wide, need-based, and merit scholarships.
- Federal student loans: The only way to receive federal student loans is by completing the FAFSA.
- Work-study: Federal work-study provides funds for students with financial need to secure on/off campus jobs to help cover educational expenses while in school.
What do l need to complete the FAFSA? How do I get started?
To begin filling out your FAFSA, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Click “I am a student and want to access the FAFSA form.” You will be asked for your login credentials (StudentAid.gov account; also known as FSA ID) and can follow the instructions on the form.
Here’s what you need to complete the FAFSA if you’re a dependent student:
- Your StudentAid.gov account (FSA ID).
- Your social security number.
- Your parents’ social security numbers.
- USCIS registration number for eligible non-citizens (if applicable).
- Federal tax information, tax documents, or tax returns, including IRS W-2 information, for you and your parents.
- Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student.
- Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks, bonds, and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you and your parents.
- A list of up to 20 colleges you intend to apply to (if you’re completing the FAFSA for the first time). You do not have to be accepted to any of these colleges at the time you complete your FAFSA.
For most families and students, completing the FAFSA takes around one hour. Learn more about the steps of completing the FAFSA here.
When can I start completing the FAFSA?
The 2024-2025 FAFSA is open now! We recommend completing it as early as possible, since some colleges and states award more financial aid the earlier you apply. Some states also operate on a first come, first served basis, which means they can potentially run out of financial aid. Don't wait!
Make sure to double-check the dates before you start filling out the form. You want the FAFSA labeled with the school year for which you need aid (not this current year).
What’s the deadline to complete the FAFSA?
We recommend completing your FAFSA early in your senior year. FAFSA deadlines vary by state and college. Learn what your state's deadline is here, and be sure to apply well before it. The federal FAFSA deadline is June 30th, annually.
Where can I get FAFSA Help?
Check out our list of FAFSA help by state, which breaks down what kinds of free virtual and in-person resources are available to students completing the FAFSA in your state.
Have more questions about the FAFSA?
Text #FAFSA to 33-55-77 and we'll walk you through every step of filing your FAFSA. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!