Regional College Access Center

Federal student aid and the FAFSA

Shawn says: I just finished filling out my FAFSA. That stands for "free application for federal student aid." Honestly, it was kind of a hassle, because I had to find my tax info for the past year, and ask my parents for theirs.

But I did finish it, and I'm glad I did. I'm looking at the financial aid requirements for the colleges I'm applying to, and they all require the FAFSA.

Check out this FAFSA checklist!

Click here to see's helpful checklist about the FAFSA. Here's everything you'll need to gather before you should get started.

Cappex also has other info about student aid, including tools to help you find scholarships that you should apply for. We encourage you to check out their site and create an account!

What is the FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for "Free Application for Federal Student Aid." Colleges and universities, as well as the federal government, use this application to make decisions about how to distribute financial aid to students. Most of the FAFSA questions ask about your tax history and financial information (and that of your parents if you are under 24 years old).

Check out the brand new federal student aid site here. It's really user-friendly, with answers to lots of common questions.

Why should I apply?

  1. The FAFSA is free to fill out.
  2. Most schools won't offer you financial aid unless you've submitted the FAFSA.
  3. Many colleges and universities require the FAFSA for merit-based financial aid as well as need-based aid.

No doubt about it, filling out the FAFSA should be one of your first steps in the college application process.

Who can apply?

Any legal U.S. citizen or resident can apply for the FAFSA.

Not a legal resident? There is still hope! Visit our section on immigration status and financial aid for more information.

When should I apply?

The earliest you can apply is October 1st of your senior year of high school. You should apply as early as possible because federal financial aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis. Many colleges have March deadlines for priority financial aid. Seriously, get it done early.

Remember that you must renew your FAFSA every year! Fortunately, it's much easier to update the FAFSA once you've filled it out the first time.

Where do I apply?

Apply for free at the FAFSA website. There are other websites that charge you to help you fill it out, but remember that the first F in FAFSA means FREE. If you are charged to fill out the FAFSA, you are on the wrong site.

You may submit a paper version of the FAFSA if you do not wish to fill it out online, but the online form is faster and easier to update in future years.

Download a FAFSA worksheet here!

Our friend, Mark Hanna, created a great FAFSA worksheet! It answers many frequently asked questions you'll have about the FAFSA. The worksheet will help you gather information you'll need to fill out the FAFSA.

Download the worksheet here: FAFSA Worksheet

Request an IRS Tax Return Transcript!

Download a Request for IRS Tax Return Transcript form here: