What is the FAFSA?

You’ll hear the acronym FAFSA a lot as you begin your financial aid and college journey. The FAFSA is the application for Federal student aid, and it’s also the process that nearly all colleges use to compute your institutional financial aid package.

FAFSA Overview

If you want to be considered for Federal grants, work-study funding, and loans, you have to fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA is filled out and submitted yearly, for every year you wish to receive Federal funding. The deadlines for filling out the form are usually in May and June, although they vary slightly by state and by college. The FAFSA is a free form, which can be filled out online at fafsa.gov. You’ll need a Federal pin to fill out the FAFSA, which can be also be procured online. You can also fill out the FAFSA on paper by mail, if you prefer.

When you fill out your FAFSA, you’ll input a number of indicators of your financial income, and the income of your guardian or parents. This information is then put into an algorithm which determines your financial need. After you fill out the FAFSA, you will be sent a Student Aid Report (SAR); this information also goes to the colleges or schools you stipulated on the FAFSA form. If you submit your FAFSA online, the SAR should come by email in a few days.

Understanding Your Student Aid Report

The SAR will summarize all the information you put into your FAFSA. Check over this to ensure that it is accurate. The SAR will also include your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the amount that the Federal government has determined you and your family can afford to pay out of pocket towards your education. The EFC number also dictates how much aid you can receive in the form of grants, work-study funding, and loans. Your EFC will be also used by your state and your college to determine how much aid you will be eligible for through their programs.

The EFC and Your Financial Aid Award

After you’ve been accepted to a college and filled out your FAFSA on time, you will receive a notice of your financial aid award from your institution. This is the aid package the school is offering you. Take a look at this sample award, to understand what you can expect. In the sample award, the student’s EFC and private scholarship are deducted from the total cost of attendance, which is $20,000. This leaves just over $17,000 to be paid. In this aid package, Federal, state, and institutional grants cover about $12,000 of the remaining cost, and work-study funding covers $1,000. The rest of the cost of attendance is covered through a combination of Federal loans. (ed.gov)

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