Have you looked into free government money for college? To find out if you qualify, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at fafsa.ed.gov. As you probably guessed, there is no cost to submit the FAFSA application on the web. Most accredited colleges and universities require students to submit the FAFSA to determine eligibility for grants, scholarships, work-study jobs and loans. Don’t miss out on a college education because you and your parents are worried about high tuition.

Tip

The purpose of the FAFSA application is to collect confidential data like annual income that schools use to determine financial aid eligibility.

What’s FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that allows students to apply for college financial aid. You must answer questions about income, family size, assets, savings and current sources of government aid. The key to a hassle-free FAFSA application experience is to have the documents nearby when answering questions on the form.

Specifically, you must locate your social security card, driver’s license and bank statements along with records of earned income, untaxed income and any investments. Dependent students must provide the same information about their parents. Your data determines your eligibility for need-based aid.

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How Does the FAFSA Application Work?

As far as government forms go, the FAFSA application is fairly straight forward. The Department of Education (DOE) has simplified the process to encourage more students to apply and pursue higher education. Now, you can simply check a box to have last year’s income tax returns transmitted to FAFSA, which saves time and reduces errors in reporting income.

Just look for the IRS Data Retrieval Tool when answering questions about salary. If you aren’t ready to submit the FAFSA application, you can still get an estimate of how much federal student aid you might receive by entering some basic information in the online FAFSA4caster.

Why Is FAFSA Submission Important?

The U.S. Department of Education annually awards around $120 billion dollars in aid to millions of students who qualify. The FAFSA uses a standard formula for calculating unmet need to ensure a fair and equitable process for aid distribution. Additionally, state departments, public schools, private schools and even some private lenders use FAFSA results to award financial aid.

Without FAFSA data, schools wouldn’t be able to package and disburse awards in a timely manner. To prevent delays, the Department of Education releases the form on October 1 for students seeking aid the following academic year. Schools recommend applying no later than February.

FAFSA Application Help on Campus

Call or stop by the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend if you need further help understanding the FAFSA purpose, FAFSA meaning or FAFSA definitions during the financial aid process. Some schools provide instructional videos and tips for completing the FAFSA form correctly. You can also find important FAFSA information on the website of your school’s financial aid office.

Typically, there will be an explanation of various types of aid programs and reminders about FAFSA priority deadlines. In addition to the FAFSA, many schools have their own financial aid forms requiring supplemental information. For example, your school’s form may ask if your parents attended that school. If so, you may qualify for a legacy scholarships given to children of alums.

About the Author

Mary Dowd holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master's degree in counseling and student personnel from Minnesota State University, Mankato. In her 20 years of higher education experience, she has taught classes, served as interim dean of students, and worked in many areas of student affairs, including student discipline, career advising, orientation and violence prevention.