Questions and Answers About the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Questions and Answers About the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
For more information, view our page on Paying for College.
Here are some questions people often ask about the FAFSA. For more information, please use the resources at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. You can click on the links in the text to get more information.
- What is the FAFSA and why it is important?
- What is a Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) Program? How can I learn if the program has been approved so I can get financial aid?
- What if the college I want to attend is not a CTP?
- What if the college is in the process of applying to be a CTP? Can I still get financial aid?
- Do I need to have a high school diploma or GED to apply for financial aid?
- The FAFSA asks about my high-school completion status (question 26). How do I answer this question, and will this affect my eligibility for Federal student aid?
- The FAFSA asks about what degree or certificate I will work on at college (question 30). I think the CTP Program I want to attend does not offer a degree or certificate. How do I answer this question, and will this affect my eligibility?
- How does guardianship affect my eligibility for Federal student aid?
- I receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If I receive a Pell grant, will this change my SSI?
- I receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), will this affect my eligibility for a Pell grant?
- What will happen to my Social Security benefits if I get financial aid or participate in a work-study program on campus?
- When should I complete the FAFSA? Is there a deadline?
- How early can I start preparing to apply for Financial Aid?
- What tools can help me complete the FAFSA?
- What information will I need to complete the FAFSA?
- What is the Student Aid Report?
- If I make a mistake on the FAFSA, can I go back and correct the information?
- Do I have to complete my FAFSA online?
- What happens to my FAFSA when I answer all of the questions? Does it go to the college I want to attend?
- Can I look at my FAFSA after I answer all of the questions?
- My brother will be attending college next year, and he will be applying for financial aid. When he applies, should I include this information on my FAFSA?
What is the FAFSA and why it is important?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a form students fill out in order to get financial aid from the government when they go to a college or university.
The US Department of Education carefully reviews all the information you put on this form. They use this information to figure out how much money your family can pay for your college education. They also use the FAFSA to figure out how much money you can receive in grants, work-study programs, and loans from the US government.
The FAFSA application is very important because it is used for Federal Pell Grants, some state grants, and other financial aid. Colleges also use it to decide what financial aid they will offer you.
Fill out the FAFSA completely and accurately, and be sure to get it in on time. Even a minor problem with the form can result in delays. If you get it in late, you may not get financial help—even if you are eligible for it.
What is a Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) Program? How can I learn if the program has been approved so I can get financial aid?
A Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary program is a college program that has been approved to give financial aid to eligible students with intellectual disabilities. The full definition of these programs can be found on the Think College Site. An updated list of programs is listed on the Student Aid Site.
What if the college I want to attend is not a CTP?
The program can apply to be a CTP through the financial aid office at the institution of higher education. For more information about how to apply, the program director can get details about the process at the Think College Site.
What if the college is in the process of applying to be a CTP? Can I still get financial aid?
Eligible students can receive aid for the semester the college applied to be a CTP. Once the program is approved as a CTP, aid can be awarded to eligible students. Students and families should talk to the program coordinator to plan accordingly.
Do I need to have a high school diploma or GED to apply for financial aid?
No- this requirement has been waived for students with intellectual disabilities enrolling in a CTP. See question 6 for more details about how to fill out the form.
The FAFSA asks about my high-school completion status (question 26). How do I answer this question, and will this affect my eligibility for Federal student aid?
If you do not have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certification, select none of the above. This answer will not affect your eligibility for student aid if you are enrolled in an approved CTP Program because students with intellectual disabilities who are enrolled in approved CTP Programs are eligible for Federal financial aid even if they do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent so long as other eligibility requirements are met.
The FAFSA asks about what degree or certificate I will work on at college (question 30). I think the CTP Program I want to attend does not offer a degree or certificate. How do I answer this question, and will this affect my eligibility?
Select other/undecided if the program you want to enter does not offer a degree or certificate. Your response to this question will not affect your eligibility for student aid. A comprehensive transition and postsecondary program can be a degree, certificate, non-degree, or non-certificate program.
How does guardianship affect my eligibility for Federal student aid?
Having a legal guardian does not preclude you from receiving Federal student aid funds.
It may, however, affect your dependency status, which is taken into account in determining a student’s financial need. Specifically, if an applicant was in legal guardianship at the order of a court of a state in which the applicant resides immediately before reaching the age of majority in that state, that student will be considered “independent” for FAFSA purposes. This means that the applicant will only need to provide his or her own financial information instead of the financial information of the applicant plus the applicant’s parents or guardian(s).
As a result, applicants who are deemed independent for this reason tend to have a higher financial need, which makes them eligible to receive more financial aid.
I receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If I receive a Pell grant, will this change my SSI?
No. Pell grants are not considered income or resources regardless of use. You can learn more on the Social Security website.
I receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), will this affect my eligibility for a Pell grant?
No. SSI and SSDI are not considered income. So they are not counted when the government calculates how much you and your family can afford to pay for college.
What will happen to my Social Security benefits if I get financial aid or participate in a work-study program on campus?
Probably nothing. No Federal student aid you receive is counted as income or resources, regardless of use. No other, non-Federal forms of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, fellowships, or gifts are counted as income or resources so long as they are used to offset educational expenses. You can learn more on the Social Security website.
When should I complete the FAFSA? Is there a deadline?
You should complete your FAFSA and send it in during your last year of high school (or your last year of public education before aging out). Send it in as soon after January 1 as possible. This is also a good time to complete any other financial aid applications. Many schools require you to submit all financial aid forms by early February. Again, check with the schools you’re applying to, and find out their exact deadlines.
You can complete the FAFSA online or on paper, but completing the application online is faster and easier, especially because, in most cases, income information can be retrieved from the IRS automatically. Refer to FAFSA Filing Time for the latest information about when you need to complete the form.
Colleges usually only look at applications during a specific time every year. This time is called the application submission period. It is different from school to school.
When you’re ready to apply to a college or university, talk to the institution’s financial aid office and admissions office. Find out exactly when you’ll need to apply for financial aid. Remember, deadlines might be different for the FAFSA and for other financial aid programs. States have their own FAFSA deadlines, too. So make sure to ask about all these deadlines, and write them down so you don’t miss them!
How early can I start preparing to apply for Financial Aid?
You can start getting ready for the FAFSA even if you’re only in middle or junior high school. The Department of Education has a workbook to help younger students think about college options and financial aid.
The Department of Education has also developed checklists to help elementary-school, middle-school, and high-school students and their families prepare for college. These checklists include suggestions about exploring careers, selecting colleges, and financial planning for college.
What tools can help me complete the FAFSA?
FAFSA4caster will help you understand your options for paying for college. You provide some basic information, and the site estimates how much Federal student aid you can probably get.
What information will I need to complete the FAFSA?
The FAFSA will ask you about the topics below. Be ready to answer these questions and more before you start filling out the FAFSA.
- Are you a US citizen?
- Are you married?
- Have you ever been convicted for using drugs?
- What level of school did your parents complete?
- Are you legally dependent on your parents, or are you independent?
- Your income and tax filing status
- Your additional taxable and certain other forms of untaxed income.
You’ll also need to answer some questions about your age, educational attainment, military service, and family configuration, such as:
- Are you 23 years old or older?
- Are you married?
- Are you or have you ever served in the U.S. Armed Forces?
- Do you have children or other dependents who receive more than half of their support from you?
- As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are your or were you an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship?
- Are you an unaccompanied you who is or was homeless?
Depending on your answers to the questions about your educational attainment, military service, and family configuration as described above, you may also need to include the following information on the FAFSA:
- Parents’ Social Security Numbers, names, and dates of birth;
- Parents’ tax returns and/or W-2 forms;
- Parents’ adjusted gross income;
- Any other benefits that your family receives, such as SSI, food stamps, free or reduced lunch, TANF, or WIC;
- Parents’ additional taxable income; and
- Parents’ additional untaxed income.
The FAFSA website has a worksheet that will help you collect and organize your and your parents’ financial information (parental information is only required if you are dependent). This worksheet is just a guide to help you--you still have to submit the FAFSA to get financial aid.
Now, most applicants do not even need to gather their income tax information. If you and your family have already filed your taxes for the year, FAFSA on the Web can retrieve your and your parents’ income tax information from the IRS electronically and import it into the FAFSA for you. Though not everyone is eligible to use this new feature of FAFSA on the Web, approximately 85 percent of applicants are eligible to retrieve their tax information this way.
What is the Student Aid Report?
A Student Aid Report (SAR) is the document that a student receives after their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is processed. The SAR lists all of the answers that were provided on the FAFSA. Students should review the SAR carefully to make sure it is correct. If, when reading your SAR, you realize that some of the information that you provided is missing or inaccurate, you can make corrections to the FAFSA.
The SAR also contains a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which measures how much money your family is expected to contribute to your education. The EFC is used to determine eligibility for need-based Federal student aid during one school year. Need-based forms of Federal student aid include, Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Work-Study, and Direct Subsidized Loans. Schools that participate in Federal student aid programs will use the EFC to decide how much financial aid a student is eligible to receive based on the school's cost of attendance and other financial assistance you are expecting to receive.
If I make a mistake on the FAFSA, can I go back and correct the information?
Yes. Your FAFSA is like a snapshot of your family’s financial situation on the date you sign and submit it. If the information on your Student Aid Report (SAR) is not accurate as of that date, then you must correct it.
With the exception of your Social Security Number (SSN), you can correct any FAFSA answer online. Certain answers, especially about financial information and marital status, usually should not be changed. You should only change them if your answers were incorrect on the day you submitted your FAFSA.
The FAFSA website allows you to correct information and add or remove school codes. The only information that cannot be corrected online is your Social Security Number (SSN). If you filed a FAFSA using an incorrect SSN, you can enter the correct one on a paper Student Aid Report (SAR). You can also ask the financial aid office at one of the schools listed on your SAR to change the SSN for you. Otherwise, you must file a new FAFSA with the correct SSN.
If you need a paper SAR, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center to request a copy. Refer to the Contact Us page for contact information. If you think you need to correct your FAFSA, but you aren’t sure, contact the financial aid office at the college you are applying to for assistance.
Do I have to complete my FAFSA online?
No. A FAFSA can be submitted via hard copy too. But applying online is the fastest and easiest way. Use the online FAFSA worksheet to write down your information before you complete the form. You can also print this worksheet out.
What happens to my FAFSA when I answer all of the questions? Does it go to the college I want to attend?
If you’re completing the FAFSA electronically, once you submit your application, your information is immediately sent to the US Department of Education. You’ll get an electronic confirmation right away.
On your FAFSA, you’ll include the Federal School Codes of the colleges you’re interested in (question 101). You can enter a school code directly, if you know it. If you don’t know it, you can do a search for the school name and find the code that way.
Schools listed on your FAFSA will automatically receive your FAFSA results electronically. You can list up to four schools on a paper FAFSA and up to ten schools if you complete the FAFSA online. Schools use the information from your FAFSA to decide how much Federal student aid you are eligible for.
What do colleges do with the information I include on the FAFSA?
The financial aid administrator at a school combines various forms of aid into a “financial aid package” for you. Using all available resources to give each student the best possible financial aid package is a huge part of the aid administrator’s job. But funds are often limited. So even if you are eligible for a larger amount of aid, your financial aid package might only give you part of that money. Because some forms of financial aid may be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, that’s another reason to submit your FAFSA early.
Can I look at my FAFSA after I answer all of the questions?
Yes. You can look at the FAFSA summary as you are completing sections of the FAFSA, and you can log back into My FAFSA to get an overall report.
My brother will be attending college next year, and he will be applying for financial aid. When he applies, should I include this information on my FAFSA?
Yes. In the parent information section of the FAFSA, question 73 asks about the number of students in the family who are enrolled in college. Colleges use this information to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount of money your family is expected to pay for your college education. The Federal government also uses your EFC to figure out how much financial aid you should get from them.If a family has more children in college, they probably won’t be able to pay as much for each child’s education. So the EFC will be lower when more than one child in a family is enrolled at college. Talk to a financial aid administrator at the colleges you’re applying to. They can tell you more about this.
Completing the FAFSA takes some time and attention. But it’s worth it to find funding for your college dreams!
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