The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be the first thing you do if you’re looking for financial aid to pay for your education. Think of the FAFSA as the gateway to financial aid. It’s the only way to apply for ALL federal and most states’ financial aid, including Pell grants, Work-study, and student loans.
Even if you have a full-ride scholarship or savings to pay for college, filing the FAFSA is a good backup plan to cover unexpected expenses. Many scholarships require you to file the FAFSA as part of their application process.
Some basic eligibility criteria include financial need and that you’re a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen. For more information on FAFSA eligibility visit Federal Student Aid.
It doesn’t take as long as you think – usually less than an hour from start to finish. To make it easier to fill out the FAFSA gather the following information before you apply.
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
- Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- An FSA ID to sign electronically.
You aren’t obligated to accept loans – the FAFSA is just an application. If you decide you need to use loans to fund your education make sure you understand your options. Federal student loans are often more flexible than private student loans. Make sure you know how much you expect to make after you graduate. This can help you decide how much debt you can safely take on when you have to repay your loans. A good rule of thumb is that your payment is less than 10% of your monthly income.