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FAFSA FAQ: 15 Answers to Your Most Burning FAFSA Questions

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Everyone should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year they attend college or graduate school. This important form unlocks the door to federal financial aid, grants and scholarships. To learn more, read on for answers to the most common FAFSA questions.

General FAFSA questions

Let’s start with some general information about the FAFSA.

What is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a free online application you fill out to qualify for federal financial aid. Many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to grant state and institutional financial aid.

You submit the FAFSA online on the Federal Student Aid website or mobile app. You’ll need to create an FSA ID to access and sign the FAFSA. If you’re a dependent student, your parents will need their own FSA IDs, too.

What does the FAFSA have to do with financial aid?

After you submit the FAFSA, the government will look at your information and use it to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC, soon to be renamed Student Aid Index (SAI), is how much you and your family are expected to pay for your education.

Once your EFC is determined, it’s up to your college to put together your financial aid package. Your college’s financial aid office determines need-based aid by subtracting your EFC from its total cost of attendance.

Need-based aid could be in the form of federal grants, Direct subsidized loans or work-study opportunities. Note that colleges don’t necessarily meet your full financial need.

You can also get non-need based aid, depending on how much other aid you’ve already received based on the FAFSA. Loans that are non-need based aid include Direct unsubsidized Loans and federal PLUS loans.

Am I eligible for federal financial aid?

To be eligible for federal financial aid, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or eligible noncitizen
  • Have or be on track for your high school diploma
  • Be accepted or enrolled at a Title IV school
  • Be registered with Selective Service, if you’re a male student
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or grad school. If your GPA falls too low, you’ll lose eligibility for FAFSA loans and financial aid

When do I apply for the FAFSA?

The FAFSA application typically opens on Oct. 1 and closes more than a year and a half later on June 30. For the 2021-2022 school year, for example, you can apply for the FAFSA between Oct. 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022.

Some colleges and states, however, set earlier deadlines for financial aid. Check with your college to see if it sets its own FAFSA deadline. Since some financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s a good idea to submit the FAFSA as close to Oct. 1 as possible.

Plus, many regular decision colleges want to hear your attendance decision by May 1. By filling out the FAFSA early, you’ll be able to compare financial aid packages from multiple colleges. Then, you’ll be able to better decide on a school.

What should I do if I miss the FAFSA deadline?

If you miss your college’s FAFSA deadline, contact the financial aid office. Some states and colleges award aid to latecomers.

As for the federal FAFSA, you’ll have access to it until the end of the school year. If you don’t apply for that school year, fill out the FAFSA for the following year instead.

What is the Student Aid Report (SAR)?

The Student Aid Report (SAR) is a document you’ll receive after filling out the FAFSA. It sums up all your answers on the FAFSA application. Look over the SAR to confirm all your information is correct, and notify the FSA if there are any errors. If everything looks good, simply keep the SAR for your personal records.

FAFSA questions about filling out the forms

Up next on the FAFSA FAQ are questions about filling out the application itself. Read on to learn what information you need to apply for financial aid.

What information do I need to apply for the FAFSA?

The FAFSA asks for personal and financial information. You’ll fill out your contact details, as well as your Social Security number or resident ID. You’ll also indicate up to 10 colleges to receive your FAFSA information.

You or your parents will also provide information from the prior year’s tax return. Beyond gross income, the form asks for your bank account balance, investments and recurring expenses.

Can I use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import tax information?

Yes, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is available for the current FAFSA. You can use it to import your data directly from the IRS website into the FAFSA.

Do I need to submit the FAFSA every year?

Yes, you will need to submit the FAFSA every year to remain eligible for federal student aid. After filling it out the first time, you can submit a renewal FAFSA in subsequent years. The website will automatically fill in most of your information from the previous year.

You just need to double-check that everything is still correct. You can also start from the beginning if you need to make significant changes.

Can I edit the FAFSA after I submit it?

Yes, you can edit the FAFSA after you submit. In fact, you’re required to do so if there’s a change in your dependency status, in the number of your family members or in the number of people in your household who are in college.

You can also fix mistakes you made when filling out the form. To make corrections to the FAFSA, log in to your account and click on “Make FAFSA Corrections.” Enter your FSA ID, make any updates and then hit submit.

You can correct any field with the exception of your Social Security number. If you entered an incorrect Social Security number, contact the financial aid office of your college. They might advise you to submit an entirely new FAFSA.

What do I do if my (or my parents’) income changes?

If your family’s income changes dramatically (a parent lost their job, for example), speak with your school’s financial aid office. The college might be able to accommodate your new circumstances. However, additional aid isn’t guaranteed.

The government determines your EFC based on the information that was accurate at the time. If that information is no longer accurate, you’ll need to discuss the changes with your school.

Should I file for the FAFSA even if I don’t think I’ll qualify for financial aid?

Yes. Don’t neglect to fill out the FAFSA because you think you won’t qualify. There’s no income cutoff for financial aid. Plus, some schools rely on the FAFSA to award scholarships.

Filling it out will also protect you in the event your financial circumstances change. If a parent loses their income, for example, you can speak with your college’s financial aid office about readjusting your financial aid package. But you won’t qualify for federal aid if you never filled out the FAFSA in the first place.

Some common FAFSA myths lead students to believe they’re not eligible for financial aid. Don’t let these misconceptions make you miss out on grants or scholarships.

Questions about federal financial aid

Finally, no list of common FAFSA questions would be complete without explaining how federal financial aid works. Here’s how the FAFSA leads to loans and other types of aid.

What are the different types of financial aid?

Financial aid packages are made up of a mix of grants, scholarships, student loans and work-study options. Grants and scholarships, in most cases, you don’t have to pay back this type of financial aid. You will have to pay back student loans — with interest.

The federal work-study program is only available to students with a certain amount of financial need. It allows you to work part time on campus and earn money each semester. If you’re interested in being considered for work-study, make sure to indicate that on the FAFSA.

How much financial aid will I get?

The amount of financial aid you’ll receive largely depends on the college or graduate school. Some colleges even meet full financial need for all accepted students.

Other colleges might not meet your full financial need. In that case, you will need to find other sources of funding, such as private student loans, if you still wish to attend that school.

Remember that financial aid includes federal student loans — up to $31,000 for dependent undergraduates and up to $138,500 for graduate students. So even if your financial aid award meets your full financial need, you might take on significant debt to pay for school.

To estimate your financial aid package, check out the FAFSA4caster tool. This tool gives you a sense of how much it will cost to attend each school on your list. It can’t predict exactly how much aid you’ll get from each school, but it will give you a rough estimate of the total cost.

When do I get my financial aid package?

College financial aid offices determine your financial aid award. Many regular decision colleges send out admissions decisions in March or April of your senior year in high school. Financial aid packages often come at the same time or shortly after.

Some rolling-decision schools send out decisions and financial aid packages later in the spring or summer. But you should be able to view and compare financial aid packages before it’s time to pick a college.

Don’t forget about institutional aid, scholarships

In addition to finding answers to your FAFSA questions, you should also apply for institutional aid and independent scholarships.

Some colleges, for example, require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. The College Board administers the CSS Profile. A good number of colleges use it to award nonfederal student aid.

Plus, you can apply for scholarships from local and national organizations. By covering all your bases, you’ll get the largest amount of financial aid for college possible. To get started, check out our listing of the best scholarship search tools around the web.


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