College tuition in the United States probably isn’t going to get any cheaper in the coming years. Fortunately, the federal government has many aid packages available if you qualify. But to get access to student financial aid, you’ll need to first fill out a FAFSA.

If you have tons of questions about what exactly a FAFSA is and how federal aid works, you’re not alone. Millions of students go through this process every year but understanding the details can be a bit overwhelming. Set yourself up for FAFSA success by reading the questions and answers below.

What Does FAFSA Stand For?

The abbreviation “FAFSA” is short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA’s purpose is to gather detailed financial information and help colleges around the nation determine your eligibility for various aid packages. Schools of all sizes, from large state schools to Ivy Leagues to small colleges, rely on the data presented in your FAFSA application. Although most universities and colleges use FAFSA, it’s important to note, that not every school uses the federal application. Many private universities use the CSS/Financial Aid Profile instead of FAFSA to determine aid eligibility.

How Does FAFSA Work?

The FAFSA process isn’t as difficult as it seems if you pay close attention to the instructions. After filling out your FAFSA application, the government sends you a Student Aid Report (SAR). You can provide the SAR to the financial office at the college of your choice. If all goes well, you will receive a formal offer of financial aid. After you accept your offer, you’re all set to start receiving aid as per the details of the agreement.

How Many Students Fill Out a FAFSA Application Every Year?

In 2019-2020, a total of 17.7 million students filed a FAFSA application to procure some form of financial aid, according to the Center for American Progress. Although the exact numbers change every year, EducationData.org notes that more than two-thirds of current and prospective college students typically complete a FAFSA application.

What Information Does the FAFSA Require?

The FAFSA form asks for a mix of personal and financial information. More specifically, you will need to provide your Social Security number if you are a United States citizen. If you are a non-U.S. citizen, you may qualify for federal aid if you meet specific requirements. You may also qualify for grants and other financial aid from your state. In addition, you (and your spouse if you are married) will need to provide your federal income tax information, usually from IRS Forms 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. If you are filling out the FAFSA online, you can submit this information through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, a direct link to the IRS website.

Can You Use Your Parents’ Financial Information on the FAFSA?

Applicants who fall under the category of a “dependent student” must submit their parents’ financial information. You will be considered a dependent by the Department of Education if you:

• are under 24 years old by the last calendar day of the school year that you apply for.
• are not currently enrolled in a doctoral or a master’s degree program.
• are not married, have any children, and not a college graduate. Furthermore, students can’t be a veteran of the United States Armed Forces, an orphan, or an emancipated minor. Lastly, they must not be a ward of the court or have any legal dependents.

When Does the FAFSA Application Become Available Each Year?

The FAFSA becomes available on October 1st every year. The last day to file is June 30th of the following year. For example, prospective applicants who would like to complete the FAFSA for the 2022-2023 school year can start applying on October 1st, 2021. Universities can start issuing financial aid as soon as they receive the application, so getting your FAFSA in shortly after October 1st can help. States and specific scholarship and grant programs have their own application deadlines.

What Kind of Financial Aid Packages Are Available Through FAFSA?

FAFSA applicants are eligible for several forms of federal financial aid, including but not limited to:

• Pell Grants
• Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
• Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
• Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
• Direct PLUS Loans
Federal Work-Study Programs

 How Can the FAFSA Work-Study Program Help Pay for Your Education?

The Federal Work-Study program gives you a part-time job while you are pursuing your degree. Graduate and undergraduate students with financial need are both eligible for Federal Work-Study as are professional students. Undergraduate students on Federal Work-Study usually earn an hourly wage. Graduate students on Federal Work-Study can earn either an hourly wage or a salary depending on the work you do.

Can You Send Your FAFSA and Student Aid Report to Specific Colleges?

On the FAFSA, there is a section for you to choose which colleges you’d like to receive your Student Aid Report. You can list up to 10 colleges when you fill out the application.

What Should You Do If Your Situation Changes After Filling Out Your FAFSA?

You must update anything that changes your dependency status, except a change in your marital status. If your marital status changes, you must speak to the financial aid office to determine whether you may update the FAFSA form.

You may update your mailing address, email address, and other contact information if it has changed. Most information cannot be updated because it must be accurate as of the day you originally signed your FAFSA form. You’ll need to contact the financial aid office where you are a current or prospective student if you have a change in your or your parent’s income. In some cases, you’ll need to provide documentation to support your claims. Most financial aid offices are understanding and usually willing to take new information into consideration.

If you notice inaccurate information on your Student Aid Report, then you have two options. First, the FAFSA website has a place for you to submit any corrections. Second, you can speak to a Federal Student Aid Information Center representative by phone at 1-800-433-3243.

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