What is FAFSA? And Why You Should CareJuly 31, 2019
Updated October 26, 2021
What does FAFSA stand for? FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You must submit the FAFSA to apply for federal and state financial aid to see you through college, and it must be submitted every year that you want financial assistance. Even if you don’t need federal financial aid, college admissions officers recommend that you complete the FAFSA process. Also, some private scholarships require the submission of the FAFSA. In both instances, this is because the application indicates your interest in the school and can boost your chances of getting in. Each school that you have listed on the FAFSA will receive your financial information after you’ve completed the form.
How do I Get a FAFSA?
The FAFSA paperwork is available in both a printed and online format. Most families find it more convenient to complete the FAFSA online these days – to do so, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov. Here you will find pre-application worksheets and step-by-step instructions for filling out the FAFSA. You can sign your completed form electronically with a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID that can be obtained by going to this link. You can even opt to file your FAFSA from your mobile device.
There are the following advantages to completing the FAFSA process online:
- You’ll likely receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) quicker than if you had used the paper or PDF forms.
- Your FAFSA will be less prone to mistakes because the online process comes with built-in error checks.
- The expenses of the federal government will be lowered as its processing costs are reduced.
- 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.
Each school has a six-character Federal School Code (also known as a Title IV Institution Code) that you need to enter into your FAFSA. Be aware that some institutions have several codes to designate different campuses or programs. You can obtain a code by using this search form or calling the school’s financial aid office.
Paper versions are no longer distributed in bulk to high schools, libraries, and colleges, except in areas where students may not have access to the Internet. However, if you want a paper version, you can call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website for a printable copy.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a number that colleges use to calculate 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 yourself. Usually, a lower EFC increases your eligibility for more financial aid.
Use a handy EFC Calculator, such as the one from FinAid to calculate your EFC and receive an estimate of your eligibility for financial assistance. 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 I Submit my FAFSA?
The FAFSA is available on October 1 of the year before you plan to attend school. Applications are considered on a rolling basis up until a summer deadline (which varies). Earlier dates may apply to state and school-specific aid programs. Don’t wait until the deadline; the earlier you submit your application, the more aid programs you’ll be in line for.
So What Does This All Mean?
If you’re planning on enrolling in higher education, you’re probably giving some thought to financial aid. Completing the FAFSA will help you earn the federal financial assistance you need and deserve. For a very detailed guide to filling out your FAFSA, click here. And, don’t forget that help may be available from an advisor at your school.
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 Personal Loan Advisor about student loan refinancing.*