The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that can be prepared annually by current and prospective college students (undergraduate and graduate) in the United States to determine their eligibility for student financial aid.
Students may be eligible for aid if they meet the following requirements:
- has registered with the Selective Service System between the ages of 18 and 25, if required to do so (females are excluded from this requirement)
- maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)
- is a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen
- has a valid Social Security number
- has a high school diploma or GED
- must sign the certification statement stating that: 1) not in default on a federal student loan and do not owe money on a federal student grant and 2) federal student aid will only be used for educational purposes
- has not been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs while federal aid was being received
Preparation and filing options
Beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year, the FAFSA is made available to the public on October 1.
The FAFSA was made available earlier to more closely align the timing of the financial aid application process with the typical college application process.
A 2-year old US tax information is used to complete the financial sections of the FAFSA beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, students have three preparation options:
- online at ed.gov
- by telephone at 1-800-433-3243
- by paper
In addition to demographic and financial information, applicants can list up to ten schools to receive the results of the application once it is processed.
After completing the FAFSA, students are presented with a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR provides a student with their potential eligibility for different types of financial aid, their Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and a summary of the data a student provided in the application. An electronic version of the SAR (called an ISIR) is made available to the colleges/universities the student includes on the FAFSA.
Types of financial aid
Several different types of financial aid are available. The four most common types are:
- Pell Grant – A grant of up to $5,920 (as of the 2017-18 Award Year) for students with a low expected family contribution (amount can change yearly). A 2016 NerdWallet study found that students missed out on $2.7 billion in free federal Pell grants by not completing the FAFSA.
- Stafford Loan – As of July 1, 2015, any Federal Direct subsidized loan will have a fixed interest rate of 4.29% and the interest is paid by the government while the student is enrolled at least half time.
- Federal Perkins Loan – A loan that is like the Stafford but is lent directly by schools that are Title IV-eligible. Interest rate is fixed at 5%.
- The Federal Work-Study Program – A program where students can get part-time work, up to a certain amount.
Frequently Asked Questions About the 2017–18 FAFSA®
Are deadlines now earlier?
The federal deadline isn’t earlier, but some state and school deadlines are. Most state and school deadlines haven’t changed, but be aware of this: Several states’ deadlines have changed from “as soon as possible after Jan. 1” to “as soon as possible after Oct. 1.”. Find state deadlines on the FAFSA and school deadlines on schools’ websites.
Do I have to apply for admission to a school before I list it on my FAFSA?
No. On your FAFSA, list all the schools to which you have applied or might apply.
Will my 2016–17 FAFSA information be carried over onto the 2017–18 FAFSA?
If you choose the Renewal FAFSA option when you start your application at fafsa.gov, some basic information from your 2016–17 FAFSA will be prepopulated in your 2017–18 FAFSA. However, your tax and income information will not.
Can I choose to report 2016 information if my family’s income has dropped significantly since we filed 2015 taxes?
No. You must report 2015 tax and income information, as the FAFSA requires. If your family’s financial situation has changed dramatically since then, you should complete the FAFSA questions as required, submit the FAFSA, then contact the school you plan to attend and discuss your situation with the financial aid office.
Do I report my 2015 tax and income information on the 2017–18 FAFSA now, and then update it once I’ve filed my 2016 taxes?
No. Do not update after filing your taxes. The 2017–18 FAFSA asks for 2015 tax information.
What if my parents’ (or my) marital status has changed since we filed 2015 taxes? How do we supply tax and income information on the FAFSA?
Here are some tips for this type of situation:
The FAFSA asks for marital status “as of today” (the day it’s filled out). So if the student or parent is married now but wasn’t in 2015 (and therefore didn’t file taxes as married), the spouse’s income will need to be added to the FAFSA.
Similarly, if the student or parent filed 2015 taxes as married but is no longer married when filling out the FAFSA, the spouse’s income will need to be subtracted.
And if the student or parent was married when filing 2015 taxes, then got divorced and is now married to someone else, there’s a bit more math to do: Subtract the ex’s income, then add the new spouse’s income.
Will I receive aid offers from schools earlier if I apply earlier?
Not necessarily; some schools will make offers earlier, and others won’t. And keep in mind that an early offer might be an estimated offer, so read communications from schools carefully.
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