Get a handle on FAFSA submission.

1. Defining the FAFSA process.

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the primary application form needed to access federal financial aid, establishing your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Check out the video to learn about the acronym's meaning.

2. Need-based eligibility criteria

The government assesses your family's capacity to contribute to college expenses through the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). If your EFC is below the cost of attendance, you meet the criteria for need-based aid, and completing the FAFSA is crucial for determining eligibility.

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3. Choosing not to apply for aid.

Not completing the FAFSA means forfeiting your chance to receive federal aid, including valuable low-interest federal loans that may be subsidized. This could result in missing out on thousands of dollars. Additionally, colleges and universities typically require the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their own grants and scholarships.

4. Submitting your application initially.

Federal aid is in high demand and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, underscoring the importance of early application. Even if a FAFSA has been previously submitted, applicants can submit a new FAFSA for renewal or modifications. Upon review by a federal processor, the student receives a Student Aid Report summarizing the FAFSA information, and an electronic version is transmitted to the chosen schools.

Eligibility standards for FAFSA and financial aid

The majority of students are eligible for financial aid, but to secure federal aid, they must fulfill the FAFSA requirements.

  • Be a U.S. citizen, or an eligible non-citizen with a valid Social Security number.
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Should be registered with the U.S. Selective Service if they are a male ages 18-25.
  • Promise through FAFSA that the financial aid will be used for educational purposes only.
  • Not be in default on any student loan or owe any money for any federal loans.
  • Not be found guilty of possession or selling illegal drugs while being a recipient of federal financial aid.

Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct loans, and the Federal Work-Study program are highly sought-after financial aids accessible through FAFSA, allowing students to secure funding and receive government reimbursements for their part-time employment.

Getting set to go

The FAFSA demands comprehensive paperwork as families compile essential data to evaluate their capacity to meet college costs.

  • Social Security numbers for the students and parents
  • Driver’s license number if applicable
  • Alien Registration Number for student, if applicable
  • Federal tax returns or tax information for students
  • Federal tax returns for spouses, if students are married OR returns for parents, if students are dependent
  • Records of income not subject to taxation, like child support or veterans non-educational benefits.
  • Bank balances, including checking and savings accounts
  • Investment information

It is crucial to proceed slowly and attentively while filling out the FAFSA form, as it can be intricate. Dedicate the appropriate amount of time for completion, aiming for about 30 minutes, which should allow you more than enough time, considering the average completion time of 22 minutes.

Filing options provided

As part of the digital revolution, the FAFSA has embraced online accessibility, reflecting the broader shift from traditional pen-and-paper methods to electronic submission.

Selecting this method of form submission can be advantageous, as it provides students with:

  • A faster turnaround time
  • Automatic error correction
  • Online help
  • Ease of use
  • Income estimation tools, in case taxes aren’t done yet
  • Retrieval tools that can pull info directly from the IRS

The United States Census Bureau revealed that in 2013, approximately 20% of households did not have internet access. However, colleges and universities offer computer resources in their financial aid offices, ensuring that students can complete the FAFSA online, regardless of their home computer availability.

Sidestepping typical challenges

It is not uncommon for students to face difficulties and make mistakes while navigating the intricate FAFSA form, despite their earnest efforts.

Typical form mistakes
Mistakes frequently occur regarding investments, as some students overlook their parents' investment information, while others mistakenly include investments that FAFSA administrators do not require, like:

  • The value of the home the family lives in
  • Life insurance plan values
  • Amounts held in retirement accounts, such as 401k plans, IRAs or pension funds
  • Amounts held in Keogh plans

While the majority of individuals successfully submit error-free FAFSAs, about 22% of submissions contain errors of some kind.

Households running small businesses

Business-owning families face special considerations. Given the substantial presence of over 23 million small businesses in the country, numerous families belong to this group. While families owning small businesses must report the value of their enterprise, those with fewer than 100 employees might be exempt from this obligation. Students hailing from such families should carefully review the guidelines for accurate understanding.

Simple blunders
Submit incomplete information regarding certain assets or income sources, resulting in minor discrepancies that can be rectified.

  • Forget to sign the document
  • Omit their Social Security numbers
  • Leave themselves out of the number of people living in the household
  • Leave some items blank

While these errors may appear silly, their consequences can be significant, hindering a student's chances of obtaining crucial financial aid. Thoroughly reviewing the paper form and conducting multiple checks serve as the best defense against such mistakes. Alternatively, utilizing the electronic form can be beneficial, as it acts as a built-in safeguard, preventing families from proceeding or submitting the form if errors are detected.

Access professional assistance.

Working with the FAFSA can be a dreaded task for numerous students, especially when faced with its annual recurrence and perplexing intricacies. Fortunately, there are educational resources suggested by the U.S. Department of Education that can aid students in need.

  • Click on the “Help and Hints” button sitting next to each question in the online form.
  • Click on the “Need Help?” button sitting at the bottom of the online form.
  • Click on the “Help” item on the FAFSA website, and chat in real time with an expert.
  • Schedule a meeting with an advisor in the financial aid office of the institution the student has chosen.

Despite being a slight hassle, the FAFSA can be completed relatively quickly and is only a yearly task, which is manageable. Additionally, once you submit the FAFSA, you'll be one step closer to securing the much-needed financial aid you seek.


The term EFC, short for Expected Family Contribution, came up during my FAFSA update search, and it plays a vital role in determining the amount of federal aid I may receive.

The Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) is a key element in the federal financial aid application process, as it determines the level of support a student is eligible for. The formula used to calculate federal aid considers the estimated amount that the student's family is expected to contribute towards covering the cost of attending college. Dependent students are required to provide their parent's W2 and income tax details, while independent students must include their own financial information.

Are there any time constraints or deadlines I should consider when applying for FAFSA?

It is advisable to complete the FAFSA form at the earliest opportunity due to the time-sensitive nature of some required documents, such as your parent's previous year's 1040. Moreover, colleges often have their own specific deadlines for the FAFSA, typically falling between January 15 and April 15. It is important to reach out to your school's financial aid office for precise information. The Department of Education also sets its own deadlines for filing the form, with the current deadline for the 2017-2018 academic year set at midnight CDT on June 30, 2018. Keep in mind that any necessary corrections must be submitted by midnight CDT on September 15, 2018. To find out more, please refer to the FAFSA Application Deadlines page.

Applying for FAFSA financial aid is encouraged, regardless of your initial perception of eligibility, as the criteria and calculations used to determine eligibility can be complex and may result in unexpected eligibility for certain forms of assistance.

Regardless of your perception of a high family income, it's advised to apply for financial assistance since there are numerous assistance packages available, and you may qualify for some of them irrespective of your income. Filling out the FAFSA is a crucial step to uncover your eligibility for assistance programs.

Steps to renew FAFSA for next year?

Regardless of any financial stability, the FAFSA renewal application must be completed each year to ensure that all applicants for financial aid are considered and evaluated based on their updated financial information.

Understanding FAFSA school code system.

FAFSA school codes are unique codes allocated to colleges and universities, enabling eligible students to receive financial aid. These codes, provided by the Department of Education, enhance the efficiency of the system by assigning a code to each educational institution. When applying for or attending an institution, students must provide the relevant FAFSA school codes to ensure accurate processing and delivery of their information.

To simplify the process of accessing school codes, Federal Student Aid provides the Federal School Code Search tool, allowing FAFSA applicants to quickly retrieve the required information. This tool enables students to search for school codes either by state or by entering the specific name of the institution, with the academic year pre-filled. For example, if a student is interested in New York University, they can input New York for state and city, along with the school's name, and the search result will display NYU's six-digit federal school code. Alternatively, searching for New York state alone will provide a list of all 459 eligible schools that can receive data from FAFSA. Additionally, students have the option to download a Federal School Code list in Excel format.

Is there a way to monitor my FAFSA?

Access your FAFSA status by signing in to your online account at the U.S. Department of Education, the platform you used to submit your application. Federal aid awarded is based on your financial need, as indicated on your FAFSA form.


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