What is FAFSA & What Does it Stand For?

Last updated: June 22, 2014 by Dawn

Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Dept. of Education, helps make a college education possible for everyone by providing more than $150 billion each year in federal student aid.

FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is your ticket to all the financial assistance you are eligible for.

And that is why college-bound single mothers are highly encouraged to complete their own FAFSA each year.

Whether you’re starting your degree or a single mother returning to school, FAFSA is a prerequisite to every kind of financial aid, including scholarships, PELL grants as well as student loans.

It is the first step in getting aid for college! And it is absolutely FREE!.


Free FAFSA Application and How Does it Help?


FAFSA application consists of 153 numbered and unnumbered questions all directed towards the students’ assets, income and dependency1.

The answers to these questions will eventually determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) 2 — an estimate of how much you can afford out of your own pocket. Your school will subtract your EFC from your total cost of attendance. The result is your financial need. 

In other words, the lesser your EFC is, the more financial aid you’ll be awarded!


For example, if your EFC is $8,000, and the college costs $15,000 to attend, you may be eligible for $7,000 worth of aid. On the other hand, if college B costs $6,000, you may not be offered financial aid (from college B), since FAFSA indicates you can pay that much out of your own pocket.


Before You Apply


Complete your income tax return.

You don’t have to file your income tax return before you fill out the FAFSA, but it’s a good idea to do so. If you’ve done so, you can automatically retrieve your income tax data from the IRS and have it transferred straight into your FAFSA.

Get a PIN.

Get your personal identification number (PIN) at www.pin.ed.gov. Although it is not strictly required to complete your FAFSA, it is the fastest way to sign your application and have it processed electronically.


What Do I Need to Complete My FAFSA?


Personal Documents

  1. Social Security Number
  2. If you are not a U.S. citizen, your Alien Registration Number (ANR)
  3. Driver’s license number and state of issuance (if any)

Financial Records

  1. Taxable income from W-2 forms or other records of money earned or received
  2. Federal Income Tax Return (IRS 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ)
  3. Untaxed income, including workers’ compensation; child support; housing, food and other living allowances; or veterans benefits, etc.
  4. Current bank statement
  5. Current mortgage information (if applicable)

How Do I Submit my FAFSA?


To submit your FAFSA, you have three (3) options: online, PDF and paper.

1. FAFSA on The Web

The quickest and most convenient way is by doing it online @ www.FAFSA.gov. It is available in both English & Spanish. To help you through the process, step-by-step instructions are provided throughout the online application process.

2. PDF FAFSA

PDF FAFSA is available for you to print and fill out manually or is screen-fillable. Remember, you must sign, date, and mail the form to the address provided for processing.

3. Paper FAFSA

If you don’t have Internet access, you can request a paper FAFSA by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665.


Is there a Deadline?


January 1 is the first day you can submit your FAFSA. The deadline is June 30 but may differ from state to state. In general, you should complete it no later than June 30 or file no later than April 1 in order to meet the “priority” deadline.

Regardless, it’s almost always in your best interest to submit your FAFSA sooner rather than later as some aid is first come, first served.


What Happens Next?


After you completed your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within 3 to 5 days with a reference to your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The same information is also sent to the school(s) you listed on your application.

Assuming all the information is correct, you’ll get a financial aid award letter from the college(s) to which you applied, typically in late March to early April. This letter spells out the details of your financial aid package.


  1. If you are a single parent, you’ll file as an independent student. []
  2. Source: Stratagee.com. EFC Quick Reference Table []