Free Application for Federal Student Aid Guide

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) guide

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form the U.S. Department of Education (ED) requires to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

The government conducts a “need analysis” based on financial information, such as income, assets, and other family information, which you (and your parents if you are a dependent student) will be asked to provide.

Most Universities and Colleges require all of their students to submit the FAFSA to attain financial assistance such as college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-study programs.

Key Topics Covered:

  • Eligibility Criteria
  • Getting Started
  • Options for Filing
  • How is EFC Calculated?
  • Benefits of Filing

Eligibility Criteria for FAFSA

Almost every student will be eligible for one form of federal financial aid, however, in order to be eligible you must meet the requirements laid forth by FAFSA:

  • are a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen;
  • have a valid Social Security Number;
  • have a high school diploma or GED;
  • are registered with the U.S. Selective Service (if you are a male ages 18 to 25);
  • complete a FAFSA promising to use any federal aid for education purposes;
  • do not owe refunds on any federal student grants;
  • have not been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs during a period when you received federal student aid.

Getting Started

A FAFSA provides a view into a family's ability to pay for higher education costs. As a result, there is quite a bit of paperwork involved, such as:

  • Social Security numbers for parents and students
  • Federal tax returns for students
  • Bank account balances for both checking and savings
  • Investment information
  • Parent tax returns, if students are dependent
  • Alien Registration Number for student, if applicable. 

The FAFSA can be complicated, and it's important for students and their families to take their time. Usually, it will take no more than 30 minutes to complete the FAFSA. The average amount of time needed is 22 minutes.

Options for Filing

With the advent of the internet, many important federal applications can now be completed online. The U.S. Department of Education has made the FAFSA available online.

Filling out the form ​online can be beneficial for a number of reasons including the following:

  • Faster turnaround review
  • Easy to Use
  • Instant Error Correction
  • Free online help available
  • IRS retrieval tools

How is Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculated?

As stated by the FAFSA, the EFC is “a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. Your family's taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) are all considered in the formula."

Also considered are your family size and the number of family members who will attend college during the year. If your EFC is less than the cost of attendance, you qualify for need-based aid.

Is it Worth it?

To qualify for need based aid all applicants must file the FAFSA. If you don’t file the FAFSA, you will not qualify to receive federal aid. Every student and family should submit FAFSA. By failing to submit FAFSA you could be leaving thousands of dollars in low-interest, potentially subsidized, federal loans on the table. These low-interest rate loans can save borrowers huge sums in terms of interest payments over time. Moreover, most colleges and universities these days require the their students to submit the FAFSA prior to consideration for merit based scholarships. Simply put, given the average cost of college nowadays, you need to fill out the  FAFSA.

We advise that all students get a jump on the submission process as early as possible. Everyone is busy but the FAFSA should be a priority for every student and parent. Federal aid is limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Apply early!

There are tons of resources easily available if you need help in filing the FAFSA. Definitely check out the FAFSA website for more great information!