Understanding the FAFSA

Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an extremely important part of the college application process. This paperwork helps the U.S. Department of Education connect about 15 million upcoming college students with over $150 billion in education funding. This money is given to students in the form of grants, loans and federal work-study opportunities. If you are planning to attend college, you should file the FAFSA application because it is free. Students can begin filling out the paperwork on October 1st the fall before they plan to start college, and the official federal deadline for the FAFSA is June 30th of that same year you wish to attend school. However, you’ll also want to check your school and state requirements as they may recommend or require earlier submission. It’s also a good idea to file as soon as possible, since some funding is provided on a first come, first served basis. You can find the application form by visiting www.fafsa.ed.gov. Don’t forget to file the FAFSA every year you are in college, so you can be considered for funding throughout your academic career.

Before You Get Started

The FAFSA requires a lot of financial information about your family finances, so you will need to gather the following beforehand:

  • Identification
  • Tax records
  • Income records
  • Expense records
  • Debt records

The federal government wants to know about your finances the year before enrolling in school, so if you are applying for the 2016 school year, you need to have documents from 2015 on hand. This preparation process can go a lot faster if your family members can help you locate the necessary documents.

Your Questions Answered

Questions about particular sections of your FAFSA application? Click on the red dots below to help clear up some of the most common sources of confusion. If you have additional questions not addressed here, be sure to consult the FAFSA FAQ.

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What’s Next?

How do I submit my FAFSA?

If you are filling out the FAFSA online, you will need to create an FSA ID. The FSA ID will allow you to track your application throughout the process and will act as your legal, electronic signature. Once you have completed the form, you will see a confirmation page indicating that it has been submitted. Be sure to save this page to your computer or print it out. You can also submit paper versions of the FAFSA by mailing it to the address included on the form:

Federal Student Aid Programs
P.O. Box 7650,
London, KY 40742-7650

How can I check the status of my FAFSA once it’s submitted?

You can check the status of your FAFSA by logging into the web portal and selecting “My FAFSA.”

What is the Student Aid Report?

Before you receive aid award notices from your schools, FAFSA will release your Student Aid Report (SAR). This document summarizes the information you provided on the FAFSA and provides basic information regarding your eligibility to receive financial aid. If you filed online, you will be able to access this 3-5 days after submitting. Mail-in applicants can expect their SAR to arrive within two weeks.

What do I do with my SAR?

Review your SAR and make sure the information is completely accurate. If not, you must contact your school’s financial aid department to notify them of any changes. You are not responsible for submitting your SAR to schools. Each school listed on your FAFSA form will receive the summary automatically. You can have the SAR sent to additional schools through “My FAFSA.”

When can I expect to receive my financial aid award notice?

This timeframe will vary based on your school’s acceptance and award processes. You don’t receive a single award notice; instead, each school that accepts you will issue one. Contact the school’s financial aid office for further details.

If I submit the FAFSA, am I obligated to accept financial aid?

No, all financial aid is completely optional and you can choose to turn down aid you don’t need.

I’m still unsure about some of the questions on the FAFSA, where can I get help filling it out?

You can contact the Federal Financial Aid Office over the phone, via chat or through email for assistance with the application.