What is the FAFSA?
To apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, loans, and work-study, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school.
In addition, many states and colleges use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and school aid, and some private financial aid providers may use your FAFSA information to determine whether you qualify for their aid.
Am I eligible to receive financial aid?
To be eligible to receive federal student aid, you must:
- Be a citizen or eligible non-citizen of the United States.
- Have a valid Social Security Number. (Students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau are exempt from this requirement.)
- Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or have completed homeschooling. If you don’t, you may still be eligible for federal student aid if you were enrolled in college or career school prior to July 1, 2012. Go to http://studentaid.ed.gov/eligibility/basic-criteria for additional information.
- Be enrolled in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate.
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
- Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or be in default on a federal student loan.
- Register (or already be registered) with Selective Service, if you are a male and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. (Students from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau are exempt from registering; see www.sss.gov for more information.)
- Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, loans, or work-study). If you have such a conviction, you must complete the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet to determine if you are eligible for aid or partially eligible for aid.
Many types of federal student aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant or subsidized loans where the government pays the interest while you are in college, also require you to have financial need. Additionally, once you have a bachelor’s degree or a first professional degree, you are generally not eligible for Pell or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).
Other requirements may apply. Contact the financial aid office at your college for more information.
What types of aid are available?
The U.S. Department of Education awards about $150 billion every year to help millions of students pay for college. This federal student aid is awarded in the form of grants, low-interest loans, and work-study funds.
Grants are typically awarded on the basis of need and generally do not have to be repaid. There are four types of federal student grants:
- Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. (In some cases, students enrolled in postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs may receive Federal Pell Grants.) The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2017-2018 award year is $5,920; however, the actual award depends on the student’s financial need, the college’s cost of attendance, the student’s enrollment status, and the length of the academic year in which the student is enrolled. Students can receive the Federal Pell Grant for up to the equivalent of 12 semesters.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The amount of the award is determined by the college’s financial aid office, and depends on the student’s financial need and the availability of funds at the college.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants are awarded to students who intend to teach in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves students from low-income families. If the service requirement is not fulfilled, it could turn into a loan.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are awarded to students whose parents or guardians were members of the Armed Forces and died as a result of performing military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. To qualify, a student must have been under 24 years of age or enrolled in college at the time of the parent’s or guardian’s death.
- Loans consist of money that the student borrows to help pay for college, and must be repaid (plus interest).
There are two federal student loan programs:
- The Federal Perkins Loan Program is a campus-based program that provides low-interest loans to undergraduate and graduate students. The amount of the award depends on the student’s financial need, the amount of other aid the student receives, and the availability of funds at his/her college.
- The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program enables students and parents to borrow money at low interest rates directly from the federal government. The Direct Loan Program includes Direct Stafford Loans, which are available to undergraduate and graduate students, and Direct PLUS Loans, which are available to parents of dependent students and to graduate and professional-degree students. A Direct Stafford Loan might be subsidized or unsubsidized. Direct PLUS Loans are always unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are based on financial need and are available only to undergraduate students. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans while the borrower is in college and during deferment. Unsubsidized loans are based on the student's education costs and other aid received. The borrower must pay all accrued interest on unsubsidized loans.
The Federal Work-Study Program enables students to earn money during the school year while also gaining valuable work experience, typically in part-time, career-related jobs.
Other forms of financial aid that might be available to students include:
- State government aid. For more information, contact the state’s higher education agency. You can find the state agency’s contact information at http://wdcrobcolp01.e d.gov/Programs/EROD/org_list.cfm?category_cd=SHE.
- Aid from the college. Students should contact the financial aid offices at the colleges they are considering for more information.
- Scholarships. Some states, local governments, colleges, community organizations, private employers, and other organizations award scholarships based on academic ability or other factors. For more information, visit StudentAid.gov.
- Tax credits for education expenses. For more information about the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/tax-benefits.
- Aid for the military. For more information, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/grants-scholarships/military
Why should I fill out the FAFSA?
Completing and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the single most important thing you can do to get assistance paying for college.
The U.S. Department of Education uses the FAFSA to determine students’ eligibility for federal student aid. Every year, the federal government awards about $150 billion in the form of grants, low-interest loans, and work-study funds to help millions of students pay for college.
Many state governments and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for non-federal aid.
Unfortunately, some students feel like they shouldn’t bother filling out a FAFSA because of some common myths. These include:
- “I (or my parents) make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.”
- “Only students with good grades get financial aid.”
- “I’m too old to get financial aid.”
- “The form is too hard to fill out.”
11 Common FAFSA Mistakes
* These concerns are usually unfounded and should not discourage students from filing for FAFSA.