What Exactly Is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA (short for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid”) is a federal form that nearly all colleges and universities use to help determine how much financial aid you and your family are eligible for. It’s created and coordinated by the U.S. Department of Education, and it is safe and secure. It asks questions about how much money your family made (income) and how much money your family paid in taxes for the previous year. You can learn more about it and fill it out online.
When Is It Due?
How it used to work: Before, students and families could start filling out and submitting their FAFSA in January. For example, if you wanted to start or continue college in September 2020, you could only start filling out your FAFSA in January 2020.
How it works now: In order to make things a little easier, the FAFSA is available earlier—meaning in October instead of January. So if you want to start or continue in college in September 2020, you can start filling out your FAFSA as early as October 2019. This can help you better plan financially for college, as you’ll get your financial aid information sooner than before.
Technically the FAFSA isn’t due until June 30th of the year you plan to attend college. However, colleges and universities have earlier deadlines for priority consideration, often between December 1st of the previous year and March of the year you’ll start school. It pays to complete and file your FAFSA as early as possible.
What Information Does It Use?
How it used to work: Traditionally, students and their families had to estimate what they thought their family income and taxes would be for the year. This would sometimes get tricky if what your income and tax forecasts did not come true.
How it works now: It’s obviously easier to use information from your family’s actual past income and taxes instead of your family’s estimated future income and taxes. As a result, the new FAFSA will directly import your family’s previous income and tax information from the IRS. This means that instead of having to guess what your income and taxes will be in the current year, the FAFSA now uses what they really were in the previous year.
Where Can I Go for More Information?
- A college’s financial aid office is your best bet. They’re helping students with the new form and will be happy to answer any questions you might have. If you’re thinking of attending a school, it’s okay to reach out and just make sure you’re providing all the right information at the right time.
- Your high school counselor should also be able to help. Similar to college financial aid advisers, they should know about the change and be able to help explain things to you and your family.
- The U.S. Department of Education has additional information on 8 Steps to Filling Out the New FAFSA.