Getting to Know the FAFSA

What is the FAFSA? And why do I need to fill it out? We'll explain the ins and outs of why you need to get to know the FAFSA form.
Crystal Nikish's avatar by Crystal Nikish, PrepMe Student Advisor. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in English and a minor in Education Theory and Policy. Her favorite food is chocolate.

That’s right, people: it’s January. The holidays are over. The decorations are put away. When school is back in session, it’s time to start thinking about how to actually pay for the college that will be lucky enough to have you when the fat envelopes start to arrive in the mail. In other words: it’s time to get well acquainted with the FAFSA form.

What Is The FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the only way you can apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs that will help you pay for the cost of attending the college of your choice.

Why Should I Fill It Out?

Not only does the FAFSA enable you to be eligible for federal student aid, but many public and private colleges and universities will also require you to fill it out to apply for their own aid packages. Many grants and scholarships are only available through this form. And if you think there’s a reason you shouldn’t fill it out, like because your household income is too high or your grades are not good enough, check out this link about common Myths About Financial Aid.

When Should I Fill It Out?

The FAFSA becomes available on January 1st and while the deadline for federal aid is June 30th, 2013, it’s best to fill it out as soon as possible. Many scholarship funds are awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis, so there’s no down side to getting it in early.

How Do I Fill It Out?

Submit your form online or download, print, and mail it in from First you will need to create a PIN, which will identify you throughout the entire process. It is VERY important that you don’t lose this PIN, since you will need it to reapply for every year you wish to receive aid. You will also need to gather a bunch of financial documents, so try to enlist some parental help when you get to that step.

Get Started!

Now that you know what’s what, go fill out the form at If you need help or get overwhelmed, don’t forget to call the FAFSA helpline at 800-433-3243. Once your FAFSA has been filled out and submitted, make sure to check up on it if you don’t get a Student Aid Report (SAR) within three weeks. The next step after that is to wait for your acceptance letters and choose a financial aid package, if there is an offer. Just remember: the early bird catches the worm (or in this case, the tuition money!)


filed under College Planning, College Applications, Financial Aid
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