Anyone applying for federal financial aid – through loans, grants, and work-study – will need to be familiar with the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form is also used for most state and school-distributed aid, in addition to some private financial aid as well.
Each year, the federal student aid office gives out more than $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds to students who complete the FAFSA. Aid is distributed based on cost of attendance, expected family contribution, and financial need.
Filling out the FAFSA should be one of the first steps in any college applications process. Through a government website, students can find out all the information they need about the FAFSA before and after filling it out, including step-by-step instructions, school submission deadlines, and ways to check the status of their submitted forms.
Filling out the FAFSA will require students (and their parents or guardians, as applicable) to know important personal information, from Social Security numbers to last year’s federal income tax returns, and to fill in such information online.
FAFSA forms submitted online take about 3-5 days to process. For students who do not have access to a computer, or for those who do not feel comfortable submitting personal information via the Internet, there is also a paper FAFSA form that takes about 7-10 days to process.
Once the application is processed, students will receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR, which will also be sent to the colleges students list on their FAFSA form. The SAR will summarize the submitted data.
Students must reapply for federal aid every school year—but online, submission gets easier every year. Students eligible to complete a renewal FAFSA will be able to insert most of the previous year’s answers and update any new information, as applicable.