Millions of college students every year are faced with the dilemma of figuring out how to pay for college. As a result, many turn to FAFSA - or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA is one of the best ways to help you cover all of your college expenses, from paying tuition to moving in and living life. You shouldn’t shy away from it. Read on to find out what you need to know about eligibility, applying, and how much you might be able to get.
What is FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the application required by all schools in order to award Federal aid to students. Federal student aid comes in many shapes and sizes, including Federal direct student loans (both subsidized and unsubsidized), Federal grants, and Federal work-study. It’s important to remember that you must complete your FAFSA application in order to receive any Federal aid.
The good news is that most students who apply for Federal aid do indeed qualify for Federal aid - whether it be loans, grants, work-study, or a combination of the three. Remember, Federal aid isn’t the same as student loans. You don’t need to pay back any aid received through FAFSA, and there are no interest rates. You may end up need to supplement FAFSA money with student loans, which you can read more about here.
Who is eligible to receive Federal student aid?
Most U.S. citizens or eligible non citizens qualify for some sort of Federal aid for college. The amount of Federal aid one receives varies based on a number of factors, including family income, expected family contribution, length of time in school, enrollment status, and the overall cost of attendance. For instance, families who have a yearly income of $29,000 or less may qualify for a Pell Grant (the maximum amount awarded based on financial need), while families with a higher income might receive aid, but not to the same extent. However, anyone can apply.
How to apply for Financial Aid through FAFSA
Applying for FAFSA can take quite a bit of time thanks to all of the information you need to gather, but you shouldn’t let that discourage you from applying! Here are five steps to take when it comes time to apply for FAFSA:
1. Organize your information
The FAFSA form will ask you to provide a variety of personal information, so it’s best to have all of the necessary information and documents ready when the time comes. Make sure to have:
Your family size and family income
Your personal income (if you have any)
Your Social Security number
The college you are applying to (or attending)
2. Make a FSA ID
Once you’ve gathered all this information, you’ll go on to create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. This is a special code you use to complete the FAFSA every year while in college. You’ll have a separate unique FSA ID from your parent(s).
3. Fill out Student Information
After you create your FSA ID, you can begin your FAFSA application. You’ll start with the student demographic section. Here you’ll be asked basic information such as your name, age, and date of birth.
Then you’ll be asked to enter the schools you’re interested in and you’ll be asked questions to determine if you’re a dependent of your parent(s)/guardian(s).
4. Fill out Parent information
Once you’ve finished the student section, you’ll need to fill in information about your parent(s) or guardian(s). This section is required, so even if you aren’t a dependent or don’t live with your parents, you’ll still need to fill it out.
5. Fill you financial information
Finally, you need to tell FAFSA your household’s financial information. When filling out your FAFSA application online, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which speeds up the process by automatically pulling the necessary information from your (or your parents’) tax return.
After that, you should be done. Make sure to review your FAFSA application, sign it, submit it, and give yourself a pat on the back. You should also be on the lookout for an email about your completion. Your school will also contact you once they receive it.
Three FAFSA deadlines to remember
When getting ready to fill out your FAFSA application there are three major dates to keep in mind.
The FAFSA application opens to all students on October 1st. This is the first-day students are able to access and complete the form for the upcoming school year.
To give yourself the opportunity to get as much financial assistance as you can, you’ll need to fill out your application by your school’s priority deadline. Schools establish their own priority filing deadlines, which can be as early as December 1st. It’s important to take your school’s priority deadline into consideration when applying for FAFSA because if you miss this filing date you could also miss out on grant money offered by the school. Make sure to reach out to your school’s financial aid office and find the priority filing date to get as much aid as possible. The more aid you have, the easier it can be to budget and make ends meet during the year.
While priority deadlines vary school by school, the official Federal due date is June 30th. After this date you will be ineligible for Federal government aid for the school year in which you applied, so it’s best to apply early.
What to do if you need help
If you have trouble filing your FAFSA forms or have questions about FAFSA forms, you should contact your school’s financial aid office. They’ll have the resources to best help you, and it should be easy to get in touch with them. If you still have questions about FAFSA, you can reach out to the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC), which can help answer questions via email or web chat.
How Fizz can make things easier
You’ll probably be using most of your financial aid to pay your tuition, but there are other expenses you’re bound to incur. You have to pay for books, groceries, rent, transportation, your social life, and everything else you want and need to do. It’s not cheap, and every dollar counts. That’s why it’s so important to budget and find ways to save money any way you can. And Fizz can help with that.
With a Fizz card, your purchases are paid off daily and you won’t have to worry about overspending. This gives you a better handle on your personal finances. Fizz also offers tons of cash back at places you already love to spend money.
On top of all of this, Fizz helps you build your credit score. This can come in handy when it comes to refinancing your student loans or finding a cheap apartment for the year. There isn’t much about your personal financial life that Fizz can’t help with. So what are you waiting for? Fizz cards are already out there, so download the app and get your own today!
Sam is a Kenyon College alum and is head of content at Fizz. He's been a go to personal finance resource among his peers since getting his first credit card during his sophomore year of college. He hails from Washington, DC, loves all things aviation, and currently lives in Los Angeles.