What is the FAFSA?

Filling out the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) is the first and most crucial step to getting financial aid from the federal government to help pay for college.
During the 2013-2014 academic year, eligible college students missed out on over $2.9 billion in grants simply because they did not fill out the FAFSA.

Federal aid can come in the form of loans, grants, or work study opportunities. Loans must be paid back after you graduate from college, whereas money received through grants or work study does not have to be repaid. Aid is awarded based on financial need, and students who demonstrate the most financial need often qualify for grants in addition to loans.

All college and graduate students are recommended to prepare their FAFSA early on to determine whether they qualify for loans and grants. FAFSA forms become available on January 1 of every year.

As a general rule, federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis. The earlier you apply for aid, the higher your award package will likely be, depending on your particular need. It’s essential to keep track of FAFSA deadlines and make sure you’re applying for aid as soon as you can. Many financial aid departments at colleges and universities can help you fill out the FAFSA if you’re having trouble.

Additionally, if your parents still claim you as a dependent, they will need to fill out the FAFSA with you when you apply for aid.

This guide covers all you’ll need to know about federal aid and filling out the FAFSA. Read on to learn more about how you can reduce the cost of school with financial aid.

What Types of Financial Aid Can You Get with FAFSA?

Student aid can come from the federal government, from state-based funding pools, from scholarships offered by individual colleges and universities, from scholarship funds established by non-profit and private organizations, and from loans offered by private financial institutions. There is no shortage of available funding for college students, and those who work hard to secure grants and scholarships often graduate with the most manageable student debt.

While you should plan on applying for scholarships and state-based funding to increase your chances of receiving financial support, filling out the FAFSA should be your first step in acquiring financial aid. As mentioned, there are three different types of aid you can get through the FAFSA: federal loans, grants, and work study. Below you’ll find more details about each federal award.

Types of Federal Grants

Federal grants, which you automatically qualify for when you submit the FAFSA, are need-based rather than merit-based. None of the money awarded to you through these federal grants needs to be repaid. You are eligible to be considered for federal grants each year you are enrolled as an undergraduate student. Graduate students are not eligible for consideration for federal grants. Federal Pell Grants are the most commonly awarded type of grant, however, there are other types of grants you can get from other organizations not affiliated with the federal government. Get in touch with your school’s financial aid office or research opportunities online to learn more about grants from sources beyond the federal government.

Below are the types of federal grants you might be awarded once your FAFSA is submitted and processed.

Types of Grants

Federal Pell Grant

Maximum Award Amount $5,920
Qualifications Criteria
  • College or vocational school acceptance, or enrollment as an undergraduate
  • Financial need as determined by the Federal Student Aid Office

Visit Official Webpage

FSEOG Grants

Maximum Award Amount $4,000
Qualifications Criteria
  • College or vocational school acceptance, or enrollment as an undergraduate at an institution that awards FSEOG Grants
  • Financial need as determined by the Federal Student Aid Office

Visit Official Webpage

TEACH Grants

Maximum Award Amount $4,000
Qualifications Criteria
  • Acceptance or enrollment as an undergraduate with plans to teach in a low-income area after graduation
  • Willingness to sign an agreement that you will teach at a school that meets the program’s criteria

Visit Official Webpage

Service Grants

Maximum Award Amount $5,815
Qualifications Criteria
  • Acceptance or enrollment as an undergraduate student at a two-year or four-year institution
  • Must not be eligible for Federal Pell Grant based on financial need
  • Must have a parent who died as the result of service in Iraq or Afghanistan

Visit Official Webpage

Types of Federal Students Loans

Private loans from financial institutions like banks should be the last resort for funding your educational expenses. These types of loans can be helpful if you can’t find funding for school elsewhere, but they come with a number of downsides. Here are five of the key benefits of federal loans over private loans:

  1. Deferred payments — You typically don’t have to start paying off federal loans until six months after you graduate from college. Some private lenders require you to start paying off your private loans while you’re still in school.
  2. Lower, fixed interest rates — The interest rates on federal loans are often considerably lower than the interest rates on private loans. Additionally, federal loans have fixed interest rates, while some private loans may have interest rates that can go up or down at the whim of the lender.
  3. Subsidized interest — Many (but not all) federal loans are subsidized, which means the federal government pays off the interest on your loans for you while you’re still in school. Your subsidized loans don’t start accruing interest until after you graduate. Most private loans are unsubsidized, which means they collect interest while you’re still pursuing your degree.
  4. Tax-deductible interest — The IRS allows you to deduct the interest you pay on federal loans from your taxes. This isn’t the case with private loans.
  5. Loan forgiveness — The federal government offers loan forgiveness programs for college graduates working in the public sector. Private loans are not usually eligible for loan forgiveness of any kind.

There are two different types of federal loan programs: William D. Ford and Perkins. William D. Ford offers Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct Plus Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans. Perkins offers loans through individual colleges and universities for students who demonstrate the most financial need.

Types of Loans

Direct Subsidized

Interest Rate 3.76%
Subsidized or Unsubsidized? Subsidized
Maximum Award Amount $5,500 for college freshman, $6,500 for sophomores, and $7,500 for juniors and seniors
Criteria to Qualify
  • Half-time or full-time enrollment at a college or university that accepts Direct Loans
  • Financial need as determined by the federal government

Visit Official Webpage

Direct Unsubsidized

Interest Rate 3.76%
Subsidized or Unsubsidized? Unsubsidized
Maximum Award Amount Up to $31,000 over the course of a student’s college career
Criteria to Qualify
  • Half-time or full-time enrollment at a college or university that accepts Direct Loans
  • Financial need as determined by the federal government

Visit Official Webpage

PLUS Loans

Interest Rate 6.31%
Subsidized or Unsubsidized? Subsidized
Maximum Award Amount Cost of attendance minus any other federal financial aid received per year
Criteria to Qualify
  • Half-time or full-time enrollment at a college or university that accepts Direct Loans
  • Demonstrated financial need unmet by other sources of financial aid

Visit Official Webpage

Perkins Loan

Interest Rate 5%
Subsidized or Unsubsidized? Subsidized
Maximum Award Amount Up to $5,500 per year
Criteria to Qualify
  • Half-time or full-time enrollment at a college or university that offers Perkins Loans
  • Financial need as determined by the federal government

Visit Official Webpage

FAFSA Work Study Jobs

After your FAFSA has been submitted and processed, you will learn whether you qualify for federal aid in the form of a work study program. Work study provides you with extra income to offset educational expenses, and is awarded based on financial need unmet by other financial aid offerings. Just like any other job, wages you earn from your work study job do not have to be repaid. When you are awarded work study from the federal government, you’re guaranteed job placement at your school — and often in a line of work related to your major. Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about work study and what to expect if you’re accepted into a work study program.

What is work study?

Work study is a job position that provides you with compensation to pay for a portion of your educational expenses.

How much money can I earn?

You can earn at least the current federal minimum wage, if not more.

Are jobs on or off campus?

Jobs are on campus.

How many hours can I work?

All work study jobs are part-time. The number of hours you can work is determined when your FAFSA is processed, based on your financial need.

How much aid I will receive?

Every student receives a different federal aid package based on factors like personal income, family income, tuition costs, and estimated cost of living. It’s difficult to predict the exact award amount you’ll receive, and you often won’t know how much the federal government will offer you until they’ve processed your FAFSA. The FAFSA4caster is a useful tool that provides you with a ballpark estimate of what you might be offered in terms of financial aid.

Applying for FAFSA in Graduate School

Students in graduate school fill out the same FAFSA form that undergraduates do. Since many graduate students are no longer claimed as dependents by their parents, the income-related information graduate applicants have to provide on the FAFSA differs slightly from what undergraduates provide. There are a few key things that distinguish the awards graduate and undergraduate students receive. Below you’ll find more information about the federal financial aid awards available to graduate students.

Graduate Federal Grants

  • Grants aren’t usually awarded to graduate students, with the exception of the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant.
  • The TEACH Grant provides up to $4,000 per year to graduate school students who are pursuing a career in teaching.

Graduate Federal Loans

  • Graduate students can receive either Direct Unsubsidized or Direct PLUS Loans from the William D. Ford Program.
  • Students are eligible for up to $20,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans per year.
  • To qualify for PLUS Loans, graduate students have to pass a credit check.
  • PLUS Loans are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need beyond what Direct Unsubsidized Loans can cover.
  • Graduate students may qualify for the Federal Perkins Loan Program if they have significant financial need.
  • All loans offered to graduate students are unsubsidized, which means they accrue interest while you’re in school.

Graduate Federal Work Study

  • The Federal Work Study Program for graduate students operates similarly to the Federal Work Study Program for undergraduate students.
  • Students are awarded work study if they demonstrate notable financial need and if their college/university participates in the program.
  • Work study opportunities for graduate students are part-time.
  • Instead of being paid an hourly wage like undergraduate students, graduate students typically earn a salary from their work study job.

How to Fill Out the FAFSA Application

Filling out the FAFSA is easy and usually only takes around 30 minutes to an hour. You can fill out the FAFSA entirely online. Paper forms are also available, but this method isn’t recommended as it takes longer to process your application when sent through the mail. Below, we’ve outlined the major steps involved with completing your FAFSA.

1. Creating Your FAFSA Account and Receiving Your FSA ID

The Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID is the login credential you use to create a FAFSA account, fill it out, and sign your FAFSA electronically. The FSA ID recently replaced the FAFSA PIN, which served the same purpose. Below are some instructions for getting an FSA ID:

  • Set up FAFSA login information (a username and password).
  • Enter a few required personal details, including your social security number, mailing address, email address, and telephone number.
  • Choose the language you want to complete the FAFSA in (English or Spanish).
  • Answer five security challenge questions.
  • Click “submit.”
  • Agree to the FAFSA terms and conditions.
  • Verify your email address.

2. Student Demographics

The FAFSA requires that you provide basic personal and demographic information. This helps the federal government confirm who you are and ensure that you meet the eligibility requirements for financial aid. Below are some definitions for the pieces of information you will need to provide on your FAFSA.

Please note: Parents of a dependent student will need a separate FSA ID from their child.

  • Full Name

    Your legal first name, middle name, and last name

  • Social Security Number

    The number given to you by the Social Security Administration found on your Social Security Card

  • Date of Birth

    The month, day, and year of your birth

  • Gender

    Whether you identify as male or female

  • Permanent Mailing Address

    The place where you expect to be able to receive mail for the next few years (often your parents’ address)

  • State of Legal Residence

    The state where you currently reside

  • Email Address

    The email address you check most often

  • Marital Status

    Whether you are married or single

  • Driver’s License

    The number on your driver’s license, issued to you by your state of residence

Beyond the basic information listed above, you will have to provide some additional student eligibility information, which is listed and defined below. This information will further help the federal government assess your eligibility for financial aid.

  • Citizenship Status

    Whether you are U.S. citizen. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may still be eligible for financial aid if you fall under one of these categories.

  • High School completion Status

    Whether you have completed high school at the time you are filling out your FAFSA.

  • Current Grade Level

    For example, “High School Senior” or “College Sophomore”

  • Desired Degree

    The degree you are planning on earning, such as a bachelor’s degree or associate degree

  • Work Study Interest

    Whether or not you are interested in work study

  • Foster Status

    Whether or not you have been placed in a home through the foster care system

  • Parent’s Education Level

    The highest degrees obtained by the parents or legal guardians you live with

  • Previous Aid Received

    How much aid you have received in the past, if this is not your first time filling out the FAFSA

  • Drug Conviction Status

    Whether or not you have been convicted of a crime involving the use or sale of illegal drugs

3. School Selection

Students can send their FAFSA to up to 10 colleges, universities, or vocational schools. When filling out the FAFSA, you have to select the housing plan that will most likely fit your situation, whether you plan to live on campus or off campus. This will help schools and the federal government provide you with the most appropriate financial aid options. The FAFSA provides a federal school code search tool that will allow you to search for the schools you would like to send your FAFSA to and find the necessary school codes to include in your application.

4. Dependent vs Independent Students

A dependent student is someone who is considered to be mostly dependent on the financial assistance of another adult, usually a parent. An independent student is someone who does not receive a significant amount of financial help from another adult. Below, you’ll find the questions used to identify your dependency status:

  • Were you born before January 1, 1993?
  • Are you married as of today?
  • At the beginning of the upcoming school year, will you be working to obtain either a master’s degree or doctorate degree?
  • Do you have (or will you have in the upcoming school year) any children who will receive more than half of their financial support from you?
  • Do you have any other dependents (other than your spouse and children) who live with you and will receive more than half of their financial support from you?
  • Are you currently serving as an active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces?
  • Were you ever in foster care, or were both of your parents deceased before you turned 13?
  • Are you or were you an emancipated minor?
  • Does someone other than your parent or stepparent have legal guardianship over you?
  • On or after July 1 of this year, were you homeless or at risk of becoming homeless?
  • On or after July 1 of this year, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  • On or after July 1 of this year, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?

Answering yes to any of these questions makes you an independent student. Please note that these questions will be worded slightly differently on the FAFSA.

5. Parent Demographics

Parent demographics do not apply to independent students. Independent students are required to respond to detailed questions about their income and finances. The parents of dependent students, on the other hand, have to answer these same questions about their finances, taxes, marital status, and family size.

If, for some reason, you are classified as a dependent student but your parents or legal guardians are not able to fill out the FAFSA, you may elect to skip the questions about their finances, after noting on your application that they are unavailable due to special circumstances.

6. Financial Information

Whether you are classified as an independent or dependent student, you will still have to provide information about your personal finances on the FAFSA. You should be prepared to report any wages you’ve earned as well as cash support you’ve received from anyone besides your parents. This can include support from other family members or family friends.

7. Sign and Submit your FAFSA

There are three options for signing and submitting the FAFSA:

  1. Signing electronically with your FSA ID
  2. Printing a signature page and sending it in the mail
  3. Submitting without a signature

If you decide to submit the FAFSA without a signature, the Office of Federal Student Aid will send you a signature page in the mail to sign and return. Signing the FAFSA electronically with your FSA ID is the quickest and most efficient method.

8. Fafsa Deadlines

Year Attending School When You Can Submit Your FAFSA
July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018 Oct. 1, 2016–June 30, 2017
July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019 Oct. 1, 2017–June 30, 2018
July 1, 2019–June 30, 2020 Oct. 1, 2018–June 30, 2020

Special Circumstances & Appeals

If you are not offered the amount of money you believe you need to cover your educational expenses, you may file a FAFSA appeal. Additionally, if you can prove a significant, prolonged decline in income, you may qualify for additional aid. Filing an appeal or requesting more aid due to special circumstances can be done through your school’s financial aid department. Some special circumstances that might qualify you for additional aid include the following:

  • Loss of a job
  • Other loss of expected income
  • Separation or divorce or divorce of parents
  • Death of a spouse or parent
  • Unexpected medical expenses

FAFSA Loan Repayment

There are several flexible student loan repayment plans available from the federal government, giving you the opportunity to pick the most feasible plan for your post-college economic situation. Once you’ve chosen a repayment plan, you can switch to another available plan at any time. Keep in mind that you cannot get out of loan repayment because you’re not making as much money as you thought or because you didn’t get the job you wanted after college.

Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans all offer a brief grace period after you graduate to give you time to get your finances in order. Each of these types of loans gives you a six-month period after you graduate (or drop down to half-time hours) before you have to start paying on your loans. PLUS loans do not offer the same grace period, and you will need to plan to start paying them off as soon as you graduate. If you take out Perkins Loans, there may or may not be a repayment grace period. You can talk to your school’s financial aid office to find out whether there is a grace period for your Perkins Loans.

Fortunately, many of the federal loan repayment options ease the burden of repayment and only require a relatively low monthly payment from you. Below you will find some of the most common repayment plans and what you can expect from them.

FAFSA Loan Repayment

Different loans offer different repayment plans. Not all repayment plans can be applied to all of your federal loans. Below you can assess which of your loans will work with various repayment offerings.

Payment Plans

Standard Repayment Plan

Qualifying Loans
  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • PLUS loans
  • Consolidation Loans
Repayment Length Up to 10 years
Payment Terms Payments are a fixed amount assigned to you based on how soon you plan to pay your loans off.
Eligibility All federal student loan borrowers are eligible for this plan.

Graduated Repayment Plan

Qualifying Loans
  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • PLUS loans
  • Consolidation Loans
Repayment Length Up to 10 years
Payment Terms Your payments will be lower at first and increase slightly every two years.
Eligibility All federal student loan borrowers are eligible for this plan.

Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)

Qualifying Loans
  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • PLUS loans
  • Consolidation Loans
Repayment Length Up to 25 years
Payment Terms Each month, you will pay 10% of your income or your combined income with your spouse if you’re married. Any loans you haven’t paid off in 20 to 25 years will be forgiven.
Eligibility Any Direct Loan borrower with an approved loan is eligible.

Extended Repayment Plan

Qualifying Loans
  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • PLUS loans
  • Consolidation Loans
Repayment Length Up to 25 years
Payment Terms Payments are either fixed or graduated, depending on what you elect.
Eligibility If you are a Direct Loans or Consolidated Loans borrower, you debt must exceed $30,000 to be eligible for this plan.

FAFSA Loan Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness is possible in a few unique circumstances, but it’s rare. For instance, if you file for bankruptcy or have a total and permanent disability, your loans may be discharged, which essentially means they are forgiven and you do not have to continue repaying them. As mentioned above, the Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE) also entitles you to forgiveness of the remaining balance of your loans after a certain number of years.

A few loan forgiveness programs also reward college graduates for working in certain fields serving the public. Below are some of the most common loan forgiveness programs. Remember, you should never plan to depend on loan forgiveness as a way to avoid paying your loans. You should also keep in mind that filing for bankruptcy does not entitle you to loan forgiveness in all cases.

Type of Forgiveness

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Eligible Loans
  • Direct Loans
  • FFEL Loans
Conditions If you teach at a low-income elementary or secondary school for five years in a row, you may be eligible to receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Eligible Loans Direct Loans
Conditions In the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), after students have made 120 qualifying payments, the remaining balance is forgiven. This has encouraged many graduates to follow public service careers.

A qualifying payment is received no later than 15 days after the due date, is the full month’s amount, and made while working full time for a qualifying employer. Paying extra will not earn you forgiveness sooner. Extra payments will be applied toward future payments.

Qualifying employers include federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies, including many nonprofit agencies, the U.S. military, public schools and colleges, and child and family service agencies. The specific job you undertake is not important as long as the employer is qualified. The employer’s definition of full-time employment must require you to work at least 30 hours per week. Graduates are able to work for two qualified employers part time as long is their work meets the hour requirement.

Public service jobs on the Islands that have a legal relationship with the U.S. are qualified, this includes:

  • American Samoa
  • The commonwealth of Puerto Rico
  • Guam
  • The Virgin Island
  • The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • The Republic of the Marshall Islands
  • The Federated States of Micronesia
  • The Republic of Palau

Closed School Discharge

Eligible Loans
  • Direct Loans
  • FFEL Loans
  • Perkins Loans
Conditions If your school closes while you are enrolled or if it closes soon after you withdraw from enrollment, you may be able to have some of your loans forgiven.

Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

Eligible Loans
  • Direct Loans
  • FFEL Loans
  • Perkins Loans
Conditions If you are considered to be totally and permanently disabled, you may be eligible to have your loans forgiven.

Discharge in Bankruptcy

Eligible Loans
  • Direct Loans
  • FFEL Loans
  • Perkins Loans
Conditions If you file for bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy court determines that paying off your student loans would cause “undue hardship,” your loans may be forgiven.

Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge

Eligible Loans Perkins Loans
Conditions If you work in certain public service fields after graduation, a percentage of your loans may be cancelled for each year you serve.

Borrower Defense Discharge

Eligible Loans
  • Direct Loans
  • FFEL Loans
Conditions If you took out loans to attend an institution that commits fraud, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness.

Death Discharge

Eligible Loans
  • Direct Loans
  • FFEL Loans
  • Perkins Loans
Conditions If you die before paying off your loans, your family members will not be financially responsible for paying them off.

False Certification of Student Eligibility or Unauthorized Payment Discharge

Eligible Loans
  • Direct Loans
  • FFEL Loans
Conditions If you are the victim of identity theft and loans are taken out in your name, or if a school authorizes loans for a program you are not technically eligible for, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness.

Defaulting on your student loans

If you fail to make payments on your loans after any applicable grace periods, your loans may go into default. As a general rule, you should expect your loans to go into default after 270 days of not making any payments on them if you’re on a monthly repayment plan. If you’re on a plan that requires you to pay less than once a month, your loans will go into default after 330 days.

If your loans go into default, there are a number of consequences, including:

  • The entire unpaid balance of your loans will be due immediately.
  • You will lose eligibility for any forgiveness or deferment plans.
  • You will be pursued by a collection agency.
  • Your defaulted loans will be reported to the credit bureaus, which will have a negative impact on your credit score and your ability to buy a car or a house in the future.
  • Your employer may be able to withhold a portion of your pay to go towards your loans at the federal government’s request.

You can avoid loan default by making your loan payments on time. If you anticipate you may have trouble paying off your loans, contact the agency associated with your loans to discuss possible options. You may be eligible for loan deference for a short period of time, or you may be able to switch to a payment plan that will provide you with additional flexibility. Communicating your hardship upfront can help you avoid costly consequences.

If your loans have already gone into default, you can get them out of default by paying your loan balance in full, or by signing up for loan rehabilitation or loan consolidation. Loan rehabilitation is an agreement to make monthly payments on your loans for at least nine months over the course of ten consecutive months. Loan rehabilitation payments may be as low as $5 per month. This is an ideal option if you are experiencing significant financial hardship. Loan consolidation is the combination of all of your federal loans into one Direct Loan with a fixed interest rate. Consolidation can help you lower your monthly payments and make them more manageable.

FAFSA Questions & Answers

How does money allocation work?

Campus-based federal loan programs like the Perkins Loan Program re-allocate money each school year based on the amount of unused campus-based funds returned from all participating schools to the federal government from the previous school year.

What if I need to make a correction?

You can log into your FAFSA account using your FSA ID and request to make a correction. After you do this, you will be able to go back into your application, change any necessary details, and re-submit your FAFSA.

What is the EFC?

EFC stands for “Expected Family Contribution,” and it’s what the federal government believes you and your family members will be able to contribute towards covering your educational expenses. Your EFC is based on the financial information you provide on your FAFSA.

What is COA?

COA stands for “Cost of Attendance.” It’s calculated based on your tuition and fees and projected living expenses. For more information about how your cost of attendance is estimated, consult this resource.

What is a Student Aid Report?

The Student Aid Report (SAR) is a report generated by and sent to you from the federal government that contains your FAFSA information and the amount of your projected Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).

When do I receive my Student Aid Report?

You will receive your SAR within 3-5 business days if you signed and submitted your FAFSA electronically and provided an email address. It can take up to three weeks to receive your SAR if you mailed a paper copy of your FAFSA or if you mailed a signature page.

How does the government determine what grants you qualify for?

The government determines which grants you qualify for based on your projected educational expenses and how much income you or your family can reasonably use to cover your projected educational expenses. Grants are typically only awarded to students with the highest level of financial need, but there are some exceptions.

How do colleges put together their awards packages?

Colleges build their award packages based on the amount of federal aid you are awarded through FAFSA, how much aid they are awarded through programs like the Perkins Loan Program, and how much extra funding they have to give to students from their own funds as well as state funds.

Are awards packages based only on the EFC?

Not all awards packages are based on the EFC. The amount of funding you can receive through Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Federal PLUS Loans, and the Teacher Education Access for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is dependent only on your COA. Keep in mind that all other types of federal financial aid do factor in your EFC.

Do I have to accept my entire financial aid award?

No. The financial aid award you’re offered is the maximum amount you can receive. You can opt to accept a lower amount than is offered based on what you perceive your financial needs to be.

How do I accept aid from my school?

Your school’s website should provide you with options for accepting financial aid. You may also be able to accept aid in person at your school’s financial aid office.

When do I get my financial aid?

You get your financial aid after your school’s financial aid office has received your funding from the federal government. The financial aid office then provides you with the aid on a timeline they’ve established.

Can I check the status of my application?

You can check the status of your application by logging into your FAFSA account with your FSA ID. You will also be notified via email when your FAFSA has been processed and is being sent to the schools you listed on your application.

How do I report FAFSA on my tax return?

You do not have to report filling out the FAFSA on your tax return. You do, however, need to report any loans, grants, or income from Work Study you received. Check out the IRS’s helpful guide to student loan interest deduction. You can find additional information about reporting financial aid on the IRS website.


  • Federal Student Aid This is the official Federal Student Aid website, which contains a wealth of information about student loans and other types of student financial aid provided by the federal government. It should be one of the first resources you consult when you have questions about federal student aid or when you are looking for additional information about financing your education.
  • FAFSA This is the link to the online version of the FAFSA, where you can submit your application to apply to financial aid. The FAFSA website also contains helpful information about filling out your application and information you’ll need to provide as a part of your application.
  • Edvisors Edvisors provides several resources regarding federal loans and federal aid in general. This site breaks down many of the essentials of what you need to know about paying for college. Edvisors also offers guidance regarding paying off your loans and applying for scholarships.
  • NASFAA Resources for Students and Parents This site is run by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) and offers guidance regarding topics like filling out the FAFSA, college affordability and transparency, and state financial aid programs.