Paying for College


Financial Aid 101: What the FASFA can do for you

Leslia Costa
U.S. Department of Federal Student Aid

Filling out the FAFSA (free application for federal student aid) is the first step to take to see what financia aid (grants, work-study programs, and loans) you're eligible for. Many colleges and universities also use your FAFSA information to determine state and college aid.

Eligibility requirements

To receive federal financial student aid, you must:

  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Have a Social Security number
  • Be registered with the Selective Service (men only)
  • Be enrolled or accepted in an eligible program of study
  • Be pursuing a degree, certificate, or recognized credential program

FAFSA Application deadlines

The FAFSA is available starting January 1. The deadline for completing the FAFSA is June 30, but apply as early in the year as possible. Tip: Pay attention to school and state deadlines, as these are usually earlier.

  • Make a copy of necessary documents. This includes:
  1. Last year's income tax returns for you (and your parents if you're considered a dependent student)
  2. W-2 forms
  3. Current bank statements
  4. Social Security card
  5. Driver's license
  • Visit the FAFSA website and get a PIN (personal identification number). You'll need this to electronically sign your fafsa application and to check the status of your application.
  • Throughout the form you'll be asked questions about your demographics, income, and assets.
  • Within 2-3 days you should receive a student aid report summarizing the answers you gave on your FAFSA application. Check the report and make sure the information it contains is accurate.
  • If you find any errors, go back to the FAFSA website, log-in using your PIN, and make the necessary corrections.
  • A copy of the FAFSA application is given to the financial aid office at the colleges you're applying to, and they will determine how much financial aid you will receive.
  • The report will also indicate whether you're eligible for work-study opportunities. If so, you'll receive a list of those jobs you can apply for.
  • Complete the FAFSA every year to continue to receive financial aid.

For more information, ask your high school counselor, the financial aid office at the school you're planning to attend, or contact the U.S. Department of Education via phone (1-800-433-3242 or 1-800-4-FED-Aid).

Get answers to more frequently asked questions about FAFSA here.