For some, Oct. 1 marks the countdown to Halloween. For others, it’s prime leaf-peeping season. But for college students, Oct. 1 holds a much different significance: It’s the unofficial kickoff to financial aid season. That’s when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid becomes available to high school seniors and students already in college.
Filling out a FAFSA form is one of the most important, yet often confusing (and underutilized) steps in the college enrollment process. To help make sense of it all, we put together a primer on all things FAFSA-related as well as some tips for filling out the form.
What Is the FAFSA?
As mentioned above, FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a document that must be completed in order to get financial aid from the federal government. However, many states and colleges use FAFSA data to award their own financial aid.
A FAFSA form must be submitted before each school year in which the student needs financial aid. They will then receive a Student Aid Report, which outlines the expected family contribution, as well as estimated eligibility for federal student loans and Federal Pell Grants.
Who Should Fill Out a FAFSA?
In short, everyone should fill out a FAFSA form. This includes those who believe they won’t qualify for aid because you make too much money. Low-interest financial aid loans are available to everyone regardless of income. Even if a student won’t use financial aid, many private scholarships want to see the results of the FAFSA form. Millions of dollars of federal student aid are left on the table each year simply because people did not fill out a FAFSA form, according to the College Board.
When Is the FAFSA Due?
You do not need to complete FAFSA by Oct. 1. Research your college’s deadline or priority filling date, as well as the deadline date for the state you reside in. These will often be different dates. For example, UMass Amherst‘s priority deadline is March 1, while the state deadline for Massachusetts is May 1. Complete by the earliest of those dates to maximize the aid you qualify for.
You find colleges’ deadline dates in the financial aid sections of their websites, and you can look up state deadlines at studentaid.gov.
Where Can I Get a FAFSA Form?
You can complete the FAFSA form on the studentaid.gov website, which also has resources and tools to help you complete the form. This includes a list of the documents and information you will need to gather before you apply.
The FAFSA form can be completed and submitted online. This method will get you your Student Aid Report faster, usually in just a few days. However, you can also download a PDF of the application, print out a paper version and mail it in. You should receive your Student Aid Report two to three weeks later.
Tips on How to Fill Out a FAFSA Form
- To make the process as smooth as possible create a user name and password known as the FSAID (federal student aid ID) for the student and at least one parent. This password will pre-fill some of your information into the FAFSA form, allow the parent to transfer tax data from the IRS and allows everyone to electronically sign and submit the FAFSA form online.
- You can download all of your tax data directly from the IRS into your FAFSA. This makes the process much easier and ensures accuracy.
- While this is a student-based form and all the questions are directed towards the student, it includes parents’ financial information, so it’s a great idea for parents and students to fill it out together.
Federal aid can help finance your education, but is often not enough on its own. Learn more about AAA Northeast’s affordable student lending products and services.