What Is FAFSA And How Does It Work? (2022)

The cost of college has risen by about 25% in the past 10 years. As such, the need for federal aid for college has risen along with the cost. If you’re nearing the time to apply to college, you’ve likely been advised to fill out your FAFSA. But, what is FAFSA and what documents do you need to complete it?

We’ll tell you everything you need to know about this federal form to receive financial aid for college. We’ll also give you a little insight about the University of the People and why it was formed in the first place. Hint: it has to do with the rising cost of college and accessibility!

What Is FAFSA And How Does It Work? (1)
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What Is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. But FAFSA itself isn’t the money or loans you receive. Instead, it’s a form that assesses your financial need and supplies you with funding options accordingly.

The application is administered by the Department of Education. After you fill out the information, it gets sent to your college’s financial aid office and is used to help understand how much you can afford to pay for college.

Upon completing the form, a document called the Student Aid Report (SAR) is generated. This document provides insight about your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for your education. Don’t worry when you receive this number! It’s just an estimate and it’s not actually what you will have to pay for school. Instead, it’s just an estimate for your college of choice to help understand what type of funding options you may need.

Your school’s financial aid office will deduct this number from the Cost of Attendance (COA). The larger the difference, the more financial aid you’ll require.

Fast FAFSA Facts

Before we jump into more details, let’s take a look at the facts about FAFSA:

  • The FAFSA is a free form
  • The FAFSA is one of the most important forms you’ll fill out in regards to your college education — do not skip this form!
  • You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA every academic year
  • Because it’s recurring, it’s important to use an email address that you have access to at all times (i.e., don’t use a work or high school email address)
  • You can receive a $1,000 College Board Opportunity Scholarship simply by filling out your FAFSA

Who Should Fill Out The FAFSA?

If you plan to attend college in the U.S., you should most definitely fill out the FAFSA! Think of it like this — if you want to win the lottery, you need to start by buying a ticket. If you want to get financial aid from the federal government, you need to fill out the FAFSA. (Don’t worry — the chances are much higher than the lottery here. You will most likely get aid!)

Even if your family earns a lot of money and you can afford college, it’s still worthwhile to fill out the application as you may qualify for federal aid. Plus, government loans tend to have lower interest rates and better repayment terms than private loans. That’s why you’ll want to first exacerbate any federal aid for education funding before you move into private options.

Furthermore, if you’re looking to apply for a specific merit-based scholarship, it’s very likely that it will require the FAFSA. By filling out the FAFSA, you take care of many different requirements in one swoop.

The only exception is if you are definitely going to attend the University of the People. UoPeople doesn’t participate in federal funding aid, and as such, the FAFSA is not required. This is because our university is already tuition-free and very low cost (you just have to pay a fee for the application and fees for exams). However, if you need aid to cover the cost of those fees, we offer our own set of scholarships and aid (outside of the federal government).

Is The FAFSA For Me?

If you fit the following eligibility requirements and wish to attend a 2- or 4-year college or university in the United States, then the FAFSA is for you.

  • You have a high school diploma or GED
  • You are a U.S. citizen (and have a Social Security number)
  • If you aren’t a citizen, but you are a legal permanent resident or U.S. national
  • You have refugee status, have been granted political asylum or are a victim of human trafficking
  • You were born in one of the Pacific Islands

What Type Of Aid Is Offered?

The FAFSA form includes different types of financial aid, including:

  • Federal student loans
  • Federal grants
  • Federal work-study programs
  • Scholarships
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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

How To Fill Out The FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA is simple! You can find the form online at fafsa.ed.gov.

Remember, this is the only place that you should go to fill out the form and it will always be entirely free.

Before you can fill out the form, you’ll have to register for a FSA ID on the same website. This ID becomes like a legal and binding signature throughout the process. You’ll need this ID to log back in and update information on your application. Parents and students should each apply for their own FSA ID.

There’s just one more ID you’ll need in the process, and that’s your school code. You’ll need to locate the school code for each school that you plan on applying to.

Documents You’ll Need

Once you have your FSA ID, your parent’s FSA ID, and school codes, you’ll need the following documents to fill out the form online:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your parent(s’) Social Security number (if you’re a dependent on their tax returns)
  • Your driver’s license number (if applicable)
  • Your Alien Registration number (if you’re not a citizen)
  • Your Federal tax information (W2, 1099 or any other tax return document)
  • A record of untaxed income (i.e. retirement plan withdrawals)
  • A record of financial holdings (savings accounts or investments)

FAFSA Deadlines: When Do I Need To Complete The Form?

As with anything that has a deadline, don’t wait until the last minute! The form becomes available as early as October 1 for the next academic year. Financial aid is given on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it’s best to fill it out as soon as you can.

Also, keep in mind that there are other deadlines you’ll need to adhere to, namely:

  • College Deadlines: Check in with your school(s) of choice and their financial aid office to find out when their respective deadlines are to submit your FAFSA
  • State Deadlines: Each state has its own deadline
  • Federal Deadline: This is June 30

After The Form, What’s Next?

Once you’ve submitted the FAFSA online, you can expect the Department of Education to take 3-5 days to process it. For those who send it via mail, give it 7-10 days.

You’ll receive your Student Aid Report thereafter and be able to review it for accuracy. If there’s any wrong information, be sure to correct it immediately by logging back into your FAFSA portal. The SAR will also be sent to the colleges you listed with the codes you used in your application.

It’s best practice to reach out directly to your college’s financial aid office to check in after they receive your SAR, in case they need any more information. Then you get to assess your funding options and decide which are right for you!

Options For Affordable Higher Education

The FAFSA is a necessary step for every student who wishes to attend a college or university in the U.S. However, if colleges are still too expensive or you prefer to learn online because of the flexibility, then the University of the People may be the perfect fit for you!

We offer four degree-granting programs that have been designed by professionals and academic experts around the world to position students to enter their field of choice upon graduation. With everything online and no tuition fees, UoPeople offers a top-notch, affordable, and accessible option for higher education!

The Bottom Line

As a prospective college student, you have a lot to balance and consider. Don’t let finances get in the way of your college experience. Leverage the power of the easy-to-fill-out FAFSA to help you along your journey to receiving the financial aid you may need to earn your degree.

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