The Financial Aid Process
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the only way to apply for federal student aid. The schools you list on your application will use FAFSA information to evaluate your financial need and determine how much federal aid you are eligible to receive. Many states and colleges also use information from your FAFSA to provide their own financial aid.
Each January, the FAFSA is available for the upcoming school year. It is best to fill it out as early as you can because some aid is first come, first served.
When you complete the FAFSA, you'll need to provide personal and tax information. If you've filed your taxes already, you may be able to automatically retrieve the information from the IRS. If you haven't, just estimate your tax information and update it later.
Complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.gov. Make sure to fill out and submit the FAFSA each year you are in college.
After you submit your FAFSA, you'll receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR summarizes the information in your FAFSA. Review it and make corrections if needed.
Your FAFSA helps your school determine the types of federal student aid you are eligibile to receive.
Types of Federal Student Aid
As the largest provider of financial aid, the U.S. Department of Education's office of Federal Student Aid provides grants, loans, and work-study funds.
- Grants: Grants are free money that do not have to be repaid.
- Loans: Student loans are real loans (like a car or home loan) that need to be repaid with interest.
- Work-Study: A work-study job gives you the opportunity to earn money to help pay your educational expenses.
Your award letter explains the combination of federal grants, loans, and work-study a college is offering you. The offer might also contain state and institutional aid. If you receive award letters from multiple colleges or career schools, you should compare them and decide which school works best for you.