Pursuing higher education comes with various costs, but financial aid can make it more accessible and affordable. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) plays a crucial role in determining your eligibility for financial assistance.

Before diving into the FAFSA process, it’s essential to understand what it is and why it matters. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that allows you to apply for federal student aid, such as grants, loans, and work-study programs. It’s important to know that the FAFSA is not just for federal aid; many states and colleges also use it to determine eligibility for their own financial aid programs.

Completing the FAFSA accurately and on time opens doors to funding opportunities that can help make your college education more affordable. By completing the FAFSA, you basically help colleges, universities, and federal and state departments get the necessary information to assess your eligibility for financial aid.

Many students hesitate to fill out the FAFSA due to certain misconceptions. Let’s address some common myths surrounding FAFSA to ensure you have accurate information:

Myth #1: “I won’t qualify for aid, so there’s no point in filling out the FAFSA.”

This is simply not true. Financial aid comes in many forms, with differing eligibility criteria. Financial aid can be awarded based on need, merit, demographic factors, your choice of subject, or simply for writing an essay. Institutions use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for scholarships, grants, and other forms of aid. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over 80% of students received financial aid in the academic year 2019-2020 (a trend that’s been seen for the past 5 academic years). Filling out the FAFSA is pretty much the only way to join the 80%. It’s a no-brainer, really. Think of it as a way to potentially make college less of a financial burden.

Myth #2: “I missed the FAFSA deadline, so I can’t apply for aid.”

The FAFSA process is annual. If you miss the deadline for one year, you can still make up for it by ensuring you don’t miss the deadline for the next academic year. Being aware of the dates (covered in this article) can save you from loads of stress. Plus, it never hurts to apply early. The earlier you apply, the better your chances of securing financial aid.

Myth #3: “The FAFSA is too complicated and time-consuming.”

While it can seem that way, if you follow our step-by-step process, you’ll find it pretty straightforward. 

Now that we’ve cleared the air around these common myths, let’s learn key information on eligibility, dates, and the steps to prepare and complete the FAFSA.

To qualify for federal student aid through the FAFSA, you need to meet certain eligibility requirements. Here’s what you need to know:

Citizenship or Eligible Non-Citizenship

To be eligible for federal student aid, you must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen, such as a permanent resident or someone with refugee or asylum status.

Social Security Number

You need a valid Social Security Number (SSN) to complete the FAFSA. If you are a non-citizen without a Social Security number, you should enter your Alien Registration Number or all zeros in that field.

High School Diploma or Equivalent

You need to have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate to be eligible for federal student aid. If you don’t have a diploma or GED, you may still qualify through an ability-to-benefit program or by completing six credit hours or equivalent coursework at an eligible institution.

Enrollment in an Eligible Program

You must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program at an accredited institution.

Satisfactory Academic Progress

To maintain eligibility for federal student aid, you must make satisfactory academic progress as defined by your college or university. This typically includes maintaining a minimum GPA and completing a certain number of credits each academic year.

Not in Default

You must not be in default on any federal student loans, nor owe a refund on a federal grant.

Note: These are general eligibility requirements, and there may be additional criteria specific to certain federal and state aid programs. It’s important to carefully review the eligibility criteria and requirements for each program you’re interested in to determine your eligibility and maximize your financial aid opportunities. Even if your family is well off, you can still fill out the FAFSA if you meet the eligibility criteria specified above.

If you’d like to know more, the studentaid.gov website has further information on eligibility requirements associated with federal financial aid.

Timing is crucial when it comes to filling out the FAFSA. Usually, the deadline for submitting the FAFSA form is 11:59 p.m. Central Time (CT) on June 30. For instance, the FAFSA deadline for the 2023-2024 academic year is June 30, 2024. 

Here’s what you need to know about FAFSA timelines:

FAFSA Availability

The FAFSA becomes available on October 1st, each year. Submitting your FAFSA as soon as possible after this date is recommended to maximize your chances of receiving financial aid and the amount of aid you are awarded.

Priority Deadlines

Many states and colleges have priority deadlines for submitting the FAFSA. These deadlines can vary but are typically earlier than the regular FAFSA deadline. Meeting priority deadlines increases your eligibility for certain types of aid, including state and institutional grants.

Here is a list of state timelines for the academic year 2023-2024:

StateDeadline
AlaskaASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
Alaska Education Grant:
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
June 30, 2023
Alaska Performance Scholarship:
For priority consideration, submit your application by June 30, 2023. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
ArkansasJuly 1, 2023
Academic Challenge: July 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time (CT).ArFuture Grant (fall term): July 1, 2023, by midnight CT.
Jan. 10, 2024
ArFuture Grant (spring term): Jan. 10, 2024, by midnight CT.
California March 2, 2023
For many state financial aid programs: March 2, 2023 (date postmarked).
Cal Grant also requires submission of a school-certified GPA by March 2, 2023.
Sept. 2, 2023
For additional community college Cal Grants: Sept. 2, 2023 (date postmarked).
If you’re a noncitizen without a Social Security card or had one issued through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, you should fill out the California Dream Act Application at dream.csac.ca.gov. Contact the California Student Aid Commission at csac.ca.gov or your financial aid administrator for more information.
ConnecticutFeb. 15, 2023
For priority consideration, submit your application on Feb. 15, 2023, by midnight Central Time. Contact your financial aid administrator or your state agency. Additional forms may be required.
DelawareMay 15, 2023
May 15, 2023, by midnight Central Time.
District of ColumbiaJune 30, 2023
For priority consideration, submit your FAFSA form by June 30, 2023.
Aug. 1, 2023
For the DC Tuition Assistance Grant, complete the DC OneApp and submit supporting documents by Aug. 1, 2023, to receive priority consideration.
FloridaMay 15, 2023
May 15, 2023 (date processed).
GeorgiaASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Check with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be required. Visit GAfutures.org for additional information.
IdahoMarch 1, 2023
Opportunity Scholarship: For priority consideration, submit your application by March 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time. Additional forms may be required. Contact your financial aid administrator or your state agency.
IllinoisASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Visit isac.org for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) deadline dates. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
IndianaASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
Adult Student Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards made until funds are depleted. New applicants must submit additional forms at ScholarTrack.IN.gov.
Workforce Ready Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022.
April 15, 2023
Frank O’Bannon Grant: April 15, 2023, by midnight Central Time (CT).
21st Century Scholarship: April 18, 2023, by midnight CT.
IowaJuly 1, 2023
July 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time. Earlier priority deadlines may exist for certain programs. Additional forms may be required.
KansasApril 1, 2023
For priority consideration, submit your application by April 1, 2023, midnight Central Time. Contact your financial aid administrator or your state agency. Additional forms may be required.
KentuckyASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
Louisiana
July 1, 2024
July 1, 2024 (Feb. 1, 2023, recommended).
MaineMay 1, 2023
May 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time.
MarylandMarch 1, 2023
March 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time.
MassachusettsMay 1, 2023
For priority consideration, submit your application by May 1, 2023, midnight Central Time.
MichiganMay 1, 2023
May 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time.
MississippiOct. 15, 2023
MTAG and MESG Grants:
Oct. 15, 2023, by midnight Central Time (CT).
April 30, 2023
HELP Grant:
April 30, 2023, by midnight CT.
Missouri Feb. 1, 2023
For priority consideration, submit your application by Feb. 1, 2023. Applications are accepted through April 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time.
MontanaDec. 1, 2022
For priority consideration, submit your application by Dec. 1, 2022. Check with your financial aid administrator. Additional forms may be required.
Northern Mariana IslandsApril 30, 2023
For priority consideration, submit your application by April 30, 2023, midnight Central Time. Additional forms may be required.
NevadaASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
Silver State Opportunity Grant:
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards made until funds are depleted.
March 1, 2023
Nevada Promise Scholarship:
March 1, 2023. Additional forms may be required. Awards made until funds are depleted.
New JerseyApril 15, 2023
R2022–23 Tuition Aid Grant recipients/renewal applicants: April 15, 2023, by midnight Central Time (CT).
Sept. 15, 2023
All other applicants for the fall and spring terms: Sept. 15, 2023, by midnight CT.
Feb. 15, 2024
All other applicants for spring term only: Feb. 15, 2024, by midnight CT.
New YorkJune 30, 2024
June 30, 2024, by midnight Central Time. Additional forms may be required.
North CarolinaASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
North DakotaASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
OhioOct. 1, 2023
Oct. 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time.
OregonASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
Oregon Opportunity Grant:
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
March 1, 2023
OSAC Private Scholarships:
March 1, 2023. Additional forms may be required.
Oregon Promise Grant:
Contact your state agency. Additional forms may be required.
PennsylvaniaAug. 1, 2023
All first-time applicants enrolled in a community college; business, trade, or technical school; hospital school of nursing; designated Pennsylvania open-admission institution; or nontransferable two-year program: Aug. 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time (CT).
May 1, 2023
All other applicants: May 1, 2023, by midnight CT. Additional forms may be required.
South Carolina
ASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
SC Commission on Higher Education Need-based Grants: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
June 30, 2023
Tuition Grants:
June 30, 2023, by midnight Central Time.
TennesseeMarch 1, 2023
State Grant:
Prior-year recipients receive awards if eligible and apply by March 1, 2023. All other awards are made to the neediest applicants. Awards will be made until funds are depleted.
Tennessee Promise:
March 1, 2023, by midnight Central Time (CT).
Sept. 1, 2023
State Lottery for the fall term:
Sept. 1, 2023, by midnight CT.
Feb. 1, 2024
State Lottery for the spring and summer terms:
Feb. 1, 2024, by midnight CT.
TexasJan. 15, 2023
For priority consideration, submit your application by Jan. 15, 2023. Additional forms may be required. Private and two-year institutions may have different deadlines. Check with your financial aid administrator.
VermontASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Awards made until funds are depleted. Additional forms may be required.
VirginiaASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022. Deadlines vary by institution. Contact your financial aid office for more information.
Contact Your Financial Aid Office
Students ineligible for federal student aid but who meet state financial aid program and residency requirements should complete the Virginia Alternative State Aid Application at VASAapp.org instead of the FAFSA form.
WashingtonASAP After Oct. 1, 2022
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2022.
Students ineligible for federal student aid but who meet state financial aid program and residency requirements should complete the Washington Application for State Financial Aid at wsac.wa.gov/wasfa instead of the FAFSA form. Contact the Washington Student Achievement Council at wasfa@wsac.wa.gov or your financial aid administrator for more information.
West Virginia March 1, 2023
PROMISE Scholarship:
March 1, 2023. New applicants must complete and submit the additional form at collegeforwv.com. Contact your financial aid administrator or your state agency.
April 15, 2023
WV Higher Education Grant:
April 15, 2023.
WV Invests Grant:
For priority consideration, submit your application by April 15, 2023. Applicants must complete an additional form at collegeforwv.com.

States and territories not mentioned in this table may not have priority deadlines, but you should still consult your financial aid administrator or state agency for accurate information on deadlines. 

If you’ve missed the priority deadline for your state, it is still a good idea to fill out the FAFSA since you could still be eligible for other forms of aid.  

Regular Deadlines

While priority deadlines are important, there is also a regular FAFSA deadline that you must meet. The regular deadline for individual colleges is typically in the spring, but it’s important to check the specific deadline for each institution you’re considering. Missing the deadline for your school could result in a loss of financial aid opportunities. At the latest, you should aim to file your FAFSA by June 30 to access federal financial aid.

Early Action/Early Decision

If you are applying for early action or early decision admission, you will need to submit the FAFSA earlier as well. These deadlines usually align with the college application deadlines, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Annual Submission

Remember that the FAFSA must be filled out each year you plan to attend college. Even if you submitted the FAFSA in a previous year, you need to renew it for each new academic year to continue receiving financial aid.

By understanding the timing and deadlines associated with the FAFSA, you can ensure that you submit your application in a timely manner and increase your chances of receiving the most financial assistance you can for your college education.

For further information, check out the official page on FAFSA Deadlines.

Before you actually sit to fill out the form, there are a few things you should have in place to make the process easier for you.

Gather the Required Documents

Before starting the FAFSA, gather the following documents and information:

  • Social Security Number (SSN): You will need your SSN or Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen.
  • Driver’s License (if applicable): Have your driver’s license or state-issued identification card on hand.
  • Federal Income Tax Returns and W-2 Forms: Retrieve copies of your own or your parents’ tax returns and W-2 forms for the previous tax year.
    Note: If your parents are separated, how you fill out the FAFSA will depend on whether or not they live together.
    For further information on this subject, read
    this article from the official FAFSA website.
  • Records of Untaxed Income: Gather records of any untaxed income, such as child support, interest income, or veterans’ benefits.
  • Asset Information: Prepare information about your or your parents’ assets, such as bank statements and investment records.

Create Your FSA ID

To complete the FAFSA, you need to create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, (sometimes referred to as your FAFSA ID). This serves as your electronic signature and grants you access to the online FAFSA form. Here’s how to create your FSA ID:

  • Visit the official Federal Student Aid website and click on “Create Account”. Or visit this link: https://studentaid.gov/fsa-id/create-account/launch 
  • Provide your personal information, including your name, date of birth, Social Security Number, and contact information.
  • Choose a username and password for your FSA ID. Make sure to keep this information secure.
  • Verify your email address and provide your mobile phone number for added security (the latter is optional).
  • Review the terms and conditions, click agree and submit your FSA ID application.

Accessing the FAFSA

To access the FAFSA, follow these steps:

  • Visit the official FAFSA website.
  • Log in using your FSA ID. If you are a first-time user, select “Start New FAFSA.”
  • Choose the appropriate FAFSA year. As earlier mentioned, the FAFSA becomes available on October 1st of each year, so ensure that you are completing the correct version.

Filling by Sections

Now, let’s dive into the sections of the FAFSA and guide you through the process. For simplicity, we’ve divided it into 3 distinct sections based on the type of information expected:

Student Information Section

In this section, provide your personal details, including your name, SSN, date of birth, and contact information. Indicate whether you have a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED), which is a high school equivalency test. Select the colleges and universities to receive your FAFSA results (up to ten schools).

Parental Information Section

If you are considered a dependent student, you will need to provide parental information. Answer the questions about your parents’ marital status, education level, and financial situation. Remember to use the appropriate language when referring to your parents, such as “parents/guardians.”

Financial Information Section

This section gathers information about your or your parents’ income and assets. Provide accurate details based on the tax returns and W-2 forms you gathered earlier. Report any untaxed income and assets as well. If you or your parents have encountered special circumstances affecting your financial situation, make sure to explain them.

Reviewing and Submitting the FAFSA

After completing all the sections, review your information carefully for accuracy. Make any necessary corrections before submitting the form. Double-check your contact information to ensure you receive important updates regarding your FAFSA.

When you are satisfied with the accuracy of your FAFSA, sign and submit it electronically using your FSA ID.

Confirmation and Processing

After submitting the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within a few days or weeks. The SAR is a crucial document that provides a summary of the information you provided on your FAFSA. The SAR also contains important details about your eligibility for federal grants, work-study programs, and loans. You should carefully review your SAR for accuracy and make any necessary corrections. The SAR serves as a communication tool between you, the financial aid office, and the schools you listed on your FAFSA. It’s important to keep your SAR in a safe place, as you may need it for reference throughout your college application and financial aid process. Review the SAR to verify the information you provided. The SAR will also indicate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which helps colleges determine your financial aid package.

Making Corrections and Updates

If you need to make corrections or updates to your FAFSA, you can do so by logging back into your account. Additionally, inform the financial aid offices of the colleges or universities you applied to if your financial circumstances change significantly. For the academic year 2023-2024, any corrections or updates to the FAFSA must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central Time (CT) on September 14, 2024.

For additional information, refer to the studentaid.gov article on How to Correct or Update Your FAFSA® Form.

Filling out the FAFSA is an important step in accessing financial aid for college. By following this step-by-step guide, you can “uncomplicate” the entire process, and you will find it’s actually pretty straightforward. Sure, it may seem daunting, but if broken down into smaller steps, you’ll breeze through it in no time. Completing the FAFSA early (and accurately) can open doors to various financial aid opportunities. Take action, gather your documents, create your FSA ID, and start the FAFSA process as soon as you can. Investing time and effort in filling out the FAFSA can pave the way for a smoother educational journey.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understand the FAFSA
  • Know the eligibility requirements
  • Note important dates and deadlines
  • Keep necessary information on hand
  • Create your FSA ID
  • Fill out the FAFSA step-by-step
  • Review the information before submitting

What is the deadline for submitting the FAFSA form?

For the 2023-2024 academic year, the FAFSA form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central Time (CT) on June 30, 2024. The FAFSA deadline varies depending on the state and college you plan to attend. It’s crucial to check the specific deadline for each institution and meet the earliest deadline to maximize your financial aid opportunities. The FAFSA becomes available on October 1st each year, and some states and colleges have priority deadlines as early as December or January.

Do I need to fill out the FAFSA every year?

Yes, you should complete the FAFSA each year you plan to attend college. Financial circumstances can change from year to year, and the FAFSA helps determine your eligibility for financial aid for each academic year.

What if I'm not sure which colleges to include on my FAFSA?

Including all the colleges you are considering or have applied to on your FAFSA is a good idea. This ensures that each institution receives your FAFSA information and can provide you with the most suitable financial aid package. You can include up to 10 colleges on your FAFSA, and you’re not obligated to attend all of them.

Is the FAFSA only for federal aid?

No, the FAFSA is not only for federal aid. Completing the FAFSA also determines your eligibility for state and institutional financial aid programs. Many colleges and universities require the FAFSA to consider you for scholarships, grants, and other forms of aid offered by the institution.

Can I make changes to my FAFSA after submitting it?

Yes, you can make corrections or updates to your FAFSA after submitting it. Simply log back into your account and make the necessary changes. However, keep in mind that some corrections may require additional verification or documentation.

Are non-US citizens eligible to fill out the FAFSA?

Yes, non-US citizens can fill out the FAFSA form. Certain non-US citizens, such as permanent residents or those with refugee or asylum status, may be eligible for federal student aid. Reviewing the specific eligibility requirements for non-US citizens on the official FAFSA website is recommended.