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FAFSA and Everything You Need to Know 

corner of a FAFSA form

Many American families have faced increasing financial stress as college costs rise quickly. Statistically, the average cost of college has doubled in the 21st century, reaching $38,270 per year per student. To encourage higher education, the government created FAFSA, a way to support students financially. Although FAFSA has been around for almost 80 years, it’s still a new concept to many students and parents. This article will provide you with all the information that you need to know about FAFSA.  

What is FAFSA? 

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form students fill out to qualify for federal grants, loans, or work-study funds to pay for college. Many colleges use the information collected from FAFSA to determine financial aid packages and the amount students will receive.  The Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) provides approximately $114.1 billion annually to more than 9.7 million students to help pay for college or career school each year.  

A corner of a printed FAFSA form with the headline 'Step One (Student)'

How Does FAFSA Work? 

FAFSA determines how much financial aid you qualify for, including need-based and non-need-based aid. The form collects financial information about you and your parents, such as household income, assets, and bank statements. This information is used to assess your eligibility for loans and grants. Students must also select their school names on the form during the filing process so that the aid can be directed to their school accounts. Once approved, students can review their grants and choose to accept or reject them. 

Who is Qualified to Fill Out FAFSA?  

To complete the form, you must meet the following criteria: 

  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen. 
  • Have a valid Social Security number. 
  • Have a high school diploma or GED certificate. 
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a qualifying degree or certificate program. 
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress while in school. 
  • Not be in default on federal student loans or owe money on a federal grant. 
Three girls holding books and talking to each other

Why Should You Fill Out FAFSA? 

There are millions of dollars in aid that go unclaimed each year. Many students miss out on financial aid because they don’t file FAFSA. Although you don’t have to file FAFSA, it is the only way to get federal financial aid. Take advantage of the opportunity. Even if you don’t need assistance paying for tuition, it’s always better to apply and receive the funds.  

a hand putting coin into a piggy bank

How to Fill Out FAFSA 

There are two ways to complete and submit your FAFSA: 

For the online method, you can check out the detailed instructions and tips on the website to help you better understand the questions. Before filling out the form, you’ll need to create a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) with your Social Security number, full name, and date of birth. You’ll also need to prepare your contributor’s information. Both you and your contributors will need to create FSA IDs to sign the electronic form. 

What Types of Financial Aid Can You Receive Filing FAFSA? 

Filing FAFSA determines eligibility for:  

  • Subsidized federal student loans (based on need) 
  • Federal work-study programs 
  • State-based financial aid (grants, scholarships, loans) 
  • School-based financial aid (need-based grants, scholarships, merit aid) 

How are Federal Aid Funds Determined? 

a calculator, notebook, black pen, stack of money on a brown table

If you meet the basic eligibility criteria for federal student aid, the financial aid office at your college or career school determines how much aid you are eligible to receive.  

Federal Student Aid decides your eligibility depends on your Student Aid Index (SAI) or Expected Family Contribution (EFC) including assessing your family’s financial need, your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the school you are attending. 

Tips for Completing Your FAFSA Application 

1. Apply early 

Financial aid is often distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so filing early increases your chances of receiving more money for college. 

2. Get a StudentAid.gov account 

You are required to create an account before the application. You can also check your application status and ask for support using the account. 

3. Prepare your documents 

Be fully prepared so you can complete your form in one session. Gather your tax returns, records of child support (if applicable), current balances of cash, savings, and checking accounts, and the net worth of investments, businesses and farms.   

a visa credit card

4. Have your contributor information ready 

To include contributors in your FAFSA form, you’ll need their first and last name, SSN (if they have one), date of birth and email address or mailing address if they don’t have an SSN. 

5. Read the questions carefully and avoid common errors 

Mistakes can delay your application and limit the amount of aid you are eligible to receive. Double-check your Social Security number, legal name, driver’s license, and other important information. Do not leave too many blank fields; enter ‘0’ or ‘not applicable’ instead. 

If you need assistance, seek help. If you submit your form without the required contributor information or without your signature, you can correct it after your form is processed. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

When is the FAFSA Deadline?  

If you plan on attending college in the next academic year, you should complete the FAFSA in the fall of your senior year of high school. The form usually opens in October. Students in the class of 2024 and other students completing the FAFSA 2024-25 will not be able to complete it until December 2023 instead of October due to updates. There are three types of FAFSA deadlines: 

  • Federal deadline: June 30 is the last day to apply for federal aid for the following academic year.  
  • College deadlines: Deadlines vary by school, so check college websites or contact the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in to find out when you need to submit your FAFSA. 

How Long Does FAFSA Processing Take? 

Most people take less than an hour to finish the FAFSA form. After submitting, the form takes about 3 days to 3 weeks to process, depending on whether you file online or by mail.  

Start your college journey on the right foot by applying for FAFSA. Don’t miss out on the financial aid you deserve. And when it’s time to move to college, make your life easier by using Collegeboxes for all your moving, shipping, and storage needs. Collegeboxes is an affordable option for students, offering convenient and cost-effective services to ensure a smooth transition to college life. Sign up today and experience the ease and affordability of Collegeboxes! 

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