FAFSA® Guide: How to apply for federal student aid
Completing and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the single most important thing you can do to get financial aid for college or graduate school. We've partnered with Embark to provide a free, quick, and easy way to request aid.
The FAFSA is a free online application for financial aid eligibility for college. It’s used by schools to put together your federal student aid package for one year of college. This package can include grants for college, work-study, federal student loans, and even state and school financial aid.
What is Embark
Since 1995, Embark has been the leading provider of online application and admissions software to schools and universities. We’ve partnered with them to offer a free, fast, and easy way to complete your FAFSA.
Where and how to apply for federal student aid—steps for beginners
Once you’re ready to begin the FAFSA, keep these tips in mind:
Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. Federal student aid applications can be submitted starting October 1 for the following school year (for example, starting October 1, 2019 for the 2020-2021 school year). Federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so know your deadlines and apply as early as you can to maximize your financial aid.
Our partner Embark makes filing the FAFSA simpler and faster
What information you'll need to file your FAFSA
To file your FAFSA, first gather all of the documents you’ll need to reference:
Your driver's license and Social Security number
You may need your parents’ email addresses so that they can supply their Social Security numbers and birthdates.
Permission from the family member who completed a tax return if you’d like to import information directly from the IRS. If you prefer not to import it, then you’ll need to provide other financial information:
Federal income tax return: If you’re applying for academic year 2020-2021, you’ll likely use your family’s 2018 tax return.
Information about your family’s investments (real estate, money market funds, stocks, etc.)
How is your FAFSA used to calculate your federal student aid eligibility
When you fill out your FAFSA, you’ll provide personal demographic information, as well as financial information, such as your family’s federal income tax returns, W-2 forms, bank statements, and information on your family’s investments.
This financial information is used to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is an index number that colleges use to determine how much federal financial aid you’re eligible to receive. Your EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law and the information from your FAFSA.
Your eligibility for aid depends on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance (COA) at the school you'll be attending. The COA is the estimated cost to attend for one academic year and can include tuition, books, supplies, transportation, room and board, and other education-related expenses.
Add these FASFA dates to your calendar
October 1, 2019
Open date: The earliest you can file the FAFSA for the 2020-21 academic year.
June 30, 2021 The federal deadline for filing the 2020-21 FAFSA.
States and colleges have their own FAFSA deadlines. Be sure to check the FAFSA deadline for each college you’re applying to. You can check your state’s FAFSA deadline on the federal student aid website.
File early to increase your chances of getting aid. Most families who filed the FAFSA for the 2019-20 academic year waited until January or later–which means they may have missed out on free money for college. We recommend filing as close as possible to the FAFSA open date, which is October 1.
Debunking financial aid myths
Myth: My family's income is too high to qualify for federal financial aid.
Fact: Student and family income isn’t the only factor that the government uses to decide if a student qualifies for federal financial aid. The only way to know for sure if you’ll qualify is to fill out the FAFSA.
Myth: My family has money saved for college so we won't get any federal financial aid.
Fact: Savings might not be a major factor when a school decides if a student qualifies for Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. There are allowances for savings and assets.
Myth: My sibling wasn't eligible for much federal financial aid last year, so I won't be eligible when I enter college.
Fact: Actually, the number of family members in college might have a favorable impact on your financial aid eligibility.
Myth: I’m only attending college part-time, so I won't be eligible for federal financial aid.
Fact: Financial aid is available for part-time students. Talk to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in attending about aid for part-time students.
There are kids who think, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna get anything from FAFSA.’ Just fill it out!
Bryana B., Bridging the Dream ’16 scholarship winner
Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.
FAFSA is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid