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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The FAFSA is the standard form required to receive any financial assistance from the U.S. government. Pell Grants, Federal Work Study, Stafford, Perkins and PLUS loans all require a finished FAFSA.

The Department of Education will examine your basic financial information (household income, family size, the number of children in school, the age of the older parent, etc.) to determine the amount of support to which you're entitled. The federal processor reviews this information and returns an amount called Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the out-of-pocket expense of which your family is expected to contribute.

Applying for federal student aid is free. The FAFSA is usually available from financial aid offices after November 1. Apply as soon as possible after January 1 of the year you plan to attend school. Some schools set deadlines as early as March for certain types of funds (for which you will not be eligible until after you complete the FAFSA).

The Basics for Completing the FAFSA

FAFSA highly recommends you fill out the form online at fafsa.ed.gov. You will be automatically prompted with a list of grants and applications, and the process will be smoother, as resources and answers to your questions will be in one spot.

You should fill out the FAFSA each and every year you are in college, one form for both federal and state aid.

Once you've submitted the form, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). If you've filed electronically, the SAR will arrive by e-mail as fast as a week after submission. If you didn't complete the electronic process correctly or filed a paper application, the SAR will arrive by post office two to three weeks after submission.

After you confirm that all the information is correct, the Department of Education issues you an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This figure represents the amount of support the government expects your family to provide for college expenses. Your school will receive a copy of the SAR three days after final processing.

Here’s the information you’ll need to provide for the FAFSA:

  • Social Security Number (SSN) of student (or parent’s, if a dependent).
  • Driver’s License.
  • Bank Statements.
  • Investment Records.
  • W-2 forms and any other record of income.
  • Federal Tax Return (or parent’s, if a dependent).
  • Your school’s Federal School Code number, which you can look up here.

Your financial aid office should have all the proper forms and answers to your questions, or you can refer to the Department of Education's FAFSA website for more resources.

The CSS Profile

This form, now used by many institutions, was designed to assist colleges that wanted more information (and earlier information) than the federal government was providing from the FAFSA. Usually, these colleges have their own funds to award and the PROFILE gives them the additional information they need for their award process. This application process does require a processing fee.