What Is the FAFSA, and How Does it Work?July 31, 2019
Updated July 20, 2022
What is the FAFSA, and how do you submit it?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You should submit the FAFSA to apply for federal financial aid programs, including grants, scholarships, work-study jobs, and federal student loans. You may also receive consideration for state financial aid based on your FAFSA information.
Also, some institutional scholarships require the submission of the FAFSA. According to the U.S. Department of Education, you can list up to 10 schools on your online FAFSA form to determine what type of aid may be available once you’re accepted for enrollment.
Even if you don’t need federal financial aid, college admissions officers recommend that you submit the FAFSA. After all, you never know what you may be eligible for! You’ll need to re-submit the FAFSA every academic year to determine eligibility for financial aid.
Where to Find the FAFSA
Always be wary of scam organizations that tell you you’ll need to pay to fill out the FAFSA – the form is completely free to submit. Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in submitting your FAFSA application for the 2022-2023 academic year:
How to Fill Out the FAFSA Online
There are several advantages to completing the FAFSA process online:
- You will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which provides information for determining eligibility.
- The online FAFSA process provides built-in error checks to help prevent mistakes.
- With the online FAFSA, you can list up to ten colleges; the paper version only has space for four. You should list all of the schools you’re interested in, whether or not you’ve applied or been accepted yet.
How to Fill Out the FAFSA on Paper
If you’d prefer to fill out a paper copy of the FAFSA, you can do that, too! To request a paper copy, you can call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or click here to access a PDF FAFSA for the 2022-2023 academic year.
What Is an Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?
Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a calculation that colleges use to determine the amount of financial aid you’re eligible to receive. The EFC takes into account various factors such as your family’s income, assets, size, and any other family members who are attending college at the same time as you. Usually, a lower EFC increases your eligibility for more financial aid.
You can use an EFC Calculator to estimate your eligibility for financial assistance or calculate your EFC by hand. The formula to calculate your EFC is:
Your College’s Cost of Attendance – Your Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need
You can also run “what-if” tests to find out how much assistance you’ll receive under various scenarios. Keep in mind that, according to FAFSA guidelines for adopted & foster care students, some students may not be required to include EFC information on their applications.
[Beginning July 1, 2023, Expected Family Contribution will be replaced by the Student Aid Index (SAI). Click here for more information about the transition to SAI.]
When Should You Submit the FAFSA?
The FAFSA will become available on October 1 of the year before you plan to attend school. For example, if you plan to start school during the 2023-2024 academic year, you’ll be able to access the FAFSA application as early as October 1, 2022.
You’ll have until June 30 of the academic year to which the form applies to complete your FAFSA. For example, students attending school during the 2022-2023 academic year will need to submit the FAFSA no later than June 30, 2023.
Keep in mind that some financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and that some state and school-specific aid programs may have earlier deadlines. Don’t wait until the last minute; instead, submit your FAFSA early to be eligible for the maximum amount of financial aid.
Learn More: What Is the FAFSA Deadline?
What Tax Information Will You Need for the FAFSA?
The FAFSA uses what’s called “prior-prior” year income data, meaning you’ll need your 2020 tax information to fill out the 2022-2023 FAFSA.
If you’re planning on pursuing higher education, applying for financial aid can help you cover your costs. Submit the FAFSA to determine what types of federal financial aid you may be eligible for, as well as certain types of state and institutional aid. If you need additional help, be sure to reach out to your school’s advisor, who can support you in applying for financial aid.
After college, if you need assistance managing your student loan debt, talk to ELFI. Give us a call at 1.844.601.ELFI to speak with a dedicated Student Loan Advisor about student loan refinancing.*