What is FAFSA? — FAFSA Q&A

What is FAFSA?

It’s a Free Application for Federal Student Aid — your ticket to every kind of financial aid, including scholarships, PELL grants as well as student loans.

Congress passed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Simplification Act on December 27, 2020, with an aim to streamline the application process and expand federal aid eligibility.

The first reforms will take effect on July 1, 2023, as part of a phased implementation that will see all of the changes implemented by the 2024—25 academic year.

Through Federal Student Aid, the U.S. Dept. of Education helps make college education possible by providing more than $234 billion in federal grants, work‑study funds, and student loans each year to more than 10 million students. 1

FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is your ticket to all student aid you may be eligible for. And the only way to find out if you qualify for any aid is to complete and submit a FAFSA and it’s absolutely FREE.

Almost everyone’s eligible for some types of federal student aid — grants, work-study or loans.

Whether you’re enrolling in college for the first time or returning to school, you’re highly encouraged to file your FAFSA each year — even if you think you don’t qualify.

What is FAFSA? #

FAFSA application consists of 108 numbered and unnumbered questions all directed towards the students’ assets, income and dependency. 2

Starting July 1, 2024, the new FAFSA will only have a maximum of 46 questions instead of 108 and will be available in at least 11 languages.

The answers to these questions will eventually determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — 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.

Starting in the 2024—25 academic year, a new measure called the Student Aid Index, or SAI, which will replace the legacy Expected Family Contribution (EFC), will be used to determine a student's ability to pay for college and the amount of financial aid they can receive.

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 your FSA ID #

Create a FSA ID, made up of a unique username and password, at fsaid.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)

You are now able to file your FAFSA using tax information two years prior as early as October 1, rather than beginning on January 1. This will make it possible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool early in the application process.

What tax information do I need for FAFSA 2023—2024? #

For the 2023—2024 school year, you’ll use the information on your 2021 tax return, not your 2022 return. Be sure to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

For the 2024—2024 school year, anyone listing tax information on the FAFSA will be required to use the IRS Direct Data Exchange (DDX), which will be mandatory.

When you reach the financial information section of the FAFSA, click “Link to IRS” to automatically prefill the form with your tax information.

How do I submit my FAFSA? #

Applying for FAFSA is about to get easier. To submit your FAFSA, you now have four (4) options: mobile, online, PDF and paper.

FAFSA Mobile #

For the first time, you can now complete the FAFSA form on a mobile device with the same ease as on a desktop or laptop computer using the myStudentAid app. You may download the app in the Apple App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android).

FAFSA on the Web #

Alternatively, you may do it online through StudentAid.gov, which has been updated with a new “mobile-friendly” design. To help you through the process, step-by-step instructions are provided throughout the online application process.


PDF is also 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.

Paper FAFSA #

If you don’t have Internet access, you can request a paper FAFSA by calling the
Federal Student Aid Information Center

Is there a deadline? #

October 1 is the earliest day you can submit your FAFSA. The official 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. College Board, Trends in Student Aid 2022
  2. If you are a single parent, you’ll file as an independent student.
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