You know you need to apply to college, but did you know you also need to apply for financial aid? The good news is that you don’t need to complete a separate financial aid request for each school you apply to (unless they ask you to do so). All you need to do is submit the FAFSA. 

What’s the FAFSA and where do I find it?

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and is the common form almost all colleges use to determine financial aid packages. You can complete and submit the FAFSA online at The FAFSA goes live every October 1st and is for the upcoming academic year. For example, the FAFSA application opening in October 2018 is the form needed for the 2019-2020 school year. Keep in mind, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA for each year you will be enrolled.

Is there a deadline?

Yes. . . and unfortunately it’s a bit complicated. Deadlines can depend upon the school, state (for public universities), and admissions consideration status. For example, those wanting to be considered for early admission may need to submit their FAFSA as early November or December, while other applicants may not need to submit until late spring. Deadline information should be available on colleges’ admissions sites.

Keep in mind that colleges and universities only have so much money available to give in student aid. So you’ll want to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible to be considered for the maximum amount of aid.

How do I fill it out? 

The FAFSA requires that both you and your parent provide information to determine the kind of aid for which you are eligible. You’ll answer questions to determine if you can be claimed as a dependent, share your parent’s demographic information, and provide your family’s financial/tax information.  

It’s a good idea to have your tax paperwork and returns ready when you start to fill out the FAFSA so you don’t have to come back to it later. Some students miss out on financial aid because they forget to go back and complete this part of the FAFSA. If your parent files their taxes online, they made be able to import their tax information directly onto you application using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

Don’t forget to sign and submit your form!

What if I have questions or need help?

There are many online resources to help you answer your questions or address your concerns. The U.S. Department of Education has many websites dedicated to making the FAFSA as easy as possible for students and their parents to complete. 

What happens next? 

Once submitted and processed, your FAFSA information will be shared with the institutions you listed on your application. It’s not a bad idea to reach out the schools to confirm they received it—many colleges and universities will not consider your admissions application complete until they receive your FAFSA.

You’ll also receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within a month of submitting your form. The SAR will show you a summary of the information you submitted and give you the opportunity to correct any errors.

Then, all you need to do is relax! Colleges and universities make aid decisions at different times in the admissions process, but you’ll learn about the aid you will receive through an award letter. These letters can be challenging to understand, so stay tuned for future posts on the types of aid and how to decode your student financial aid package.