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Student loans in the U.S.
Regulatory framework
Higher Education Act of 1965
U.S. Dept. of Education · FAFSA
Cost of attendance · Expected Family Contribution
Distribution channels
Federal Direct Student Loan Program
Federal Family Education Loan Program
Loan products
Perkins · Stafford
PLUS · Consolidation Loans
Private student loans

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form completed by current and prospective college students (undergraduate and graduate) in the United States to determine their eligibility for student financial aid.

The FAFSA should not be confused with the CSS Profile, which is also required by some colleges (primarily private ones). The CSS is a fee-based product of the College Board (a privately organized institution) and is usually used by the colleges to distribute their own institutional funding rather than federal or state funding.


The official FAFSA website is fafsa.gov.
Education in the United States
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Many students are eligible for some form of financial aid. Students who are not eligible for need-based aid may still be eligible for an unsubsidized Stafford Loan regardless of income or circumstances.[1]

In addition to establishing financial need, students must meet the following criteria in order to be eligible for aid:

  • be registered with the Selective Service System (for Conscription in the United States), if male and between the ages of 18 and 25, if required to do so;[2][3]
  • have maintained a Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP);[4][5]
  • be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen;
  • have a valid Social Security number;
  • have a high school diploma or GED;
  • have signed the certification statement stating that: 1) they are not in default on a federal student loan and do not owe money on a federal student grant and 2) federal student aid will only be used for educational purposes;
  • have not been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs while federal aid was being received.[6]

Students who are military veterans and active duty service members may apply for financial aid by filing a FAFSA even if they also apply for education and housing benefits offered by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and its accompanying Yellow Ribbon program. The amount of military aid a student receives for a college education does not defer eligibility or reduce the amount of student aid that student could receive from the four federal grant programs – Pell, SMART, FSEOG, and TEACH – and many of the state student aid programs.

Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) of 2010 changed the criteria for suspension of eligibility for drug-related offenses. Previously, students could lose eligibility for either the possession or sale of a controlled substance during the period of enrollment. SAFRA dropped the penalties for possession of a controlled substance but retained the penalties for sale of a controlled substance. SAFRA increases the suspension to two years for a first offense and indefinite for a second offense.

Preparation and filing options[edit]

Beginning with the 2017–2018 academic year, the FAFSA is made available to the public on October 1 of the previous year. The 2016–2017 academic year was the final time the FAFSA was made available on January 1. The US Department of Education made the FAFSA available earlier to more closely align the timing of the financial aid application process with the typical college application process.[7] Additionally, 2-year old US tax information is used to complete the financial sections of the FAFSA beginning with the 2017–2018 academic year. This change in using "prior-prior tax year" information enables families to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool in the FAFSA to verify their tax information without a delay from the IRS processing tax information.[7] Some financial aid is provided on a first-come, first-served basis, and students are encouraged to submit a FAFSA as soon as possible.[7]

According to the U.S. Department of Education's website, students have three options for filling out the form:[8]

  • online at fafsa.gov (Other websites such as fafsa.com, fafsa.net, may appear to be official but most of these sites charge a fee for assistance)
  • in the myStudentAid mobile app (available on the App store or Google Play)
  • Call 1-800-433-3243 to obtain a PDF of the form

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 authorized fee-based FAFSA preparation.[9] By law, fee-based FAFSA preparation services must on initial contact with students inform them of the free option and be transparent about their non-affiliation with the U.S. Department of Education and their fees. Students should not engage with FAFSA preparation firms that are not transparent about FAFSA options and their fees upfront, or that promise to obtain scholarships.

Application process[edit]

In addition to demographic and financial information, applicants can list up to ten schools to receive the results of the application once it is processed. Historically, there was some concern that colleges could deny admission, waitlist applicants, or offer less financial aid as a result of the order in which applicants list schools on the application, or FAFSA position.[10][11] However, the US Department of Education changed the FAFSA for the 2016-2017 academic year to prevent schools from having access to view other schools that may be listed on the application.[12]

After completing the FAFSA, students are presented with a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR provides a student with their potential eligibility for different types of financial aid, their Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and a summary of the data a student provided in the application.[13] An electronic version of the SAR (called an ISIR) is made available to the colleges/universities the student includes on the FAFSA. The ISIR is also sent to state agencies that award need-based aid.

Students can file an appeal with their college financial aid office in order to seek additional financial aid, though the information about the process is not always clear or available online.[14][15] SwiftStudent, a free service, provides template letters for college students.[14][15]

Types of federal financial aid[edit]

Federal Student Aid offers several different types of financial aid programs.

  • Pell Grant – A grant of up to $6,195 (as of the 2019–2020 Award Year) for students with a low expected family contribution.[16] A 2018 NerdWallet study found that students missed out on $2.6 billion in free federal Pell grants by not completing the FAFSA.[17]
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) – A grant between $100 – $4,000 for eligible students and the award is available for Undergraduate students. This grant money is limited at colleges and universities and usually is given to those who have completed their FAFSA application early and are eligible to receive this grant.
  • Stafford Loan – A grant from $5,500 – $7,500 for dependent students depending on academic year. As of July 1, 2015, any Federal Direct subsidized loan will have a fixed interest rate of 4.29% and the interest is paid by the government while the student is enrolled at least half time. The Federal Direct unsubsidized loan also has a fixed interest rate of 4.29% and accumulates onto the outstanding balance.[18]
  • The Federal Work-Study Program – A program where students can get part-time work, up to a certain amount. In most cases, the federal government pays half of a student's wage and the school pays the other half.

Before September 2019, there was also another option:

  • Federal Perkins Loan – Under federal law, the authority for schools to make new Perkins Loans ended on September 30, 2017, and final disbursements were permitted through June 30, 2018. This was loan that was like the Stafford but was lent directly by schools that were Title IV-eligible. The interest rate was fixed at 5%.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eligibility for Aid FAQ".
  2. ^ FAFSA.ed.gov: Most male students must register with Selective Service to receive federal student aid Archived 2013-02-17 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ FAFSA.gov: Am I eligible for student aid?: If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you must register or already be registered with Selective Service. If you are a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands or the Republic of Palau you are exempt from registering.
  4. ^ "Eligibility for Aid FAQ". Retrieved 2014-03-25.
  5. ^ "If you want to keep receiving your federal student aid, make sure you stay eligible". studentaid.ed.gov. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2015-06-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ a b c Tompor, Susan (August 28, 2016). "Oct. 1 is a new kickoff for FAFSA headaches: What do you do next?". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  8. ^ "FAFSA Filing Options".
  9. ^ Higher Education Act of 2008 Public Law 110–315—AUG. 14, 2008 122 Stat. 3279–80
  10. ^ Weston, Liz (November 11, 2013). "Colleges May Penalize Students Over Preference on Financial Aid Applications". Reuters. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  11. ^ Rivard, Ry (October 28, 2013). "Using FAFSA Against Students". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  12. ^ "Summary of Changes for the Application Processing System 2016 2017" (PDF). US Department of Education. December 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2016. (see page 3:) "....We have designed a solution for 2016-2017 that allows us to send an ISIR to each school listed on the student’s record and only include the Federal School Code of the school receiving the ISIR.."
  13. ^ "What is the Student Aid Report (SAR)?". US Department of Education. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  14. ^ a b Douglas-Gabriel, Danielle (April 15, 2020). "As colleges brace for financial aid appeals, there's a new tool to help students file them". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Hoover, Eric (2020-04-15). "Financial-Aid Appeals Are Mysterious. This Tool Was Built to Simplify Them". The Chronicle of Higher Education. ISSN 0009-5982. Retrieved 2020-04-19.
  16. ^ "2015-2016 Federal Pell Grant Payment and Disbursement Schedules".
  17. ^ https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/student-loans/college-students-fafsa-money/
  18. ^ https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/interest-rates
  19. ^ http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/loans/interest-rates

External links[edit]