What is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, (FAFSA), is a free form that allows college students to apply for financial aid before starting classes. They can then file a new version of the form each year to apply for aid in the coming years. Anyone who thinks they might need help paying for college should file this form. Unlike other types of aid that is only available to those with a certain grade point average, this type of aid is open to almost every student. You can learn more about the form before filing your own online.

What Does it Cover?

Many students want to know what the FAFSA covers because they want to know what type of aid they can get. This form usually gives you access to aid from both the federal government and the state government. You may qualify for grants that give you money towards your tuition that you do not need to repay later. Many students will also qualify for loans. An unsubsidized loan will  incur interest while you’re still in college. A subsidized loan will not incur interest until six months after you either graduate or decide to quit school. This form will also determine if you qualify for your university’s work study program.

How to Apply

To apply for financial aid, you need to go to the official FAFSA website and create an account. The site will assign you a pin number that you will use to log into your account. Make sure that you keep your pin in a safe place because you will need to use it the following year, too. You can fill out some of the sections on your own, but you will need:

  • your full name
  • current address
  • social security number
  • date of birth

The form also requires that you answer questions about your own income or your parents’ income.

Tax Information

Most students applying for financial aid are dependents. As long as your parent(s) still claims you as a dependent when filing taxes, you will need to use your parent(s)’ tax information on the form. The government usually considers you a dependent until you reach a certain age. If you are below that age, you can file as an independent and use your own tax records. Independent students include those who marry at a young age or have children of their own.


While the government once gave students a long period of time in which to file this form, it now uses a deadline and requires that you submit your form before that date. According to Federal Student Aid, this deadline is at the end of July. The site also lists the application date as opening at the beginning of October. While you may want to put off filing your form until later in the year, filing early can help you take advantage of aid before others. You also may receive aid that others do not.

Though you need to fill out a number of forms when applying for college, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is one of the most important. The FAFSA determines whether you get any government aid for the coming school year, what type of aid and the total amount that you get.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris