What Is the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form you need to fill out to get any financial aid from the federal government to help pay for college. Each year, over 13 million students who file the FAFSA get more than $120 billion in grants, work-study, and low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Education.
Many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine which students get financial aid—and how much they’ll get.
The FAFSA asks for information about you and your family’s finances, including tax returns, so you might need your parents’ help to complete it. If you need additional help, reach out to your school counselor.
- Submitting the FAFSA is the most important thing you can do if you want financial aid.
- The FAFSA is free—you don’t need to pay anyone to prepare it for you.
- You need to submit a new FAFSA before each academic year in which you want to get aid. If you plan to apply for aid throughout college, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA each year. The FAFSA opens on October 1 every year.
- Be sure to use a permanent email address on the form, not your high school email, so you can use your FAFSA account throughout college.
- Completing the FAFSA is just one of the six steps you can do to earn entries for monthly scholarship drawings on BigFuture.
Who Should Fill Out the FAFSA?
Anyone planning on going to college in the next academic year should fill out the FAFSA.
- Each year, millions—sometimes billions—of dollars in federal aid is left on the table by students who didn’t file a FAFSA. It’s simple: If you don’t file, you won’t qualify for most financial aid.
- Your family doesn’t have to have a low income to qualify for assistance. Even if your family makes $200,000 a year, you could be eligible for aid.
- You automatically qualify for a low-interest federal loan when you submit a FAFSA. These loans are less expensive to pay back than many private student loans.
- Many work-study programs require the FAFSA.
- Some merit-based scholarships require the FAFSA to help them determine scholarship amounts.
How to Fill Out the FAFSA
There are three ways to complete and submit your FAFSA:
- Online at studentaid.gov.
- By printing and filling out a FAFSA form, then mailing it to the address on the form.
We recommend filling out the FAFSA online. The online option offers useful tips to help you understand the questions, which can make it a lot easier to fill out and submit the application.
When you fill out the FAFSA electronically, you’ll be asked to create a federal student aid ID (FSA ID). To create your FSA ID you will need your Social Security number, full name, and date of birth. You’ll use it to sign the electronic form. Because one of your parents also has to sign off on your FAFSA, they’ll need to create an FSA ID, too.
When to Submit Your FAFSA: Understanding FAFSA Deadlines
If you are planning on attending college in the next academic year, you should complete the FAFSA in the fall of your senior year. You can file as early as October 1. It’s a good idea to submit the application as soon as possible because financial aid is often given out on a first-come, first-served basis.
There are three types of FAFSA deadlines:
- College deadlines: Important when you’re applying for aid from a college. Deadlines vary by school, so check college websites or contact the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in to find out when you need to submit your FAFSA.
- State deadlines: Important when you’re applying for aid from your state. Check your state's FAFSA deadline.
- Federal deadline: June 30 is the last day you can apply for federal aid for the following academic year.
Remember: You should send in your FAFSA as soon as you can, regardless of deadlines. There’s a lot of financial aid out there—give yourself the best shot at getting the most assistance by applying early.