Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the document that all students must complete annually in order to qualify for federal and state financial aid, including grants, work-study, and student loans. Additionally, the information from the FAFSA may be required for some scholarship applications.
The FAFSA is used to collect information about you and your family’s household and finances. This includes information from tax documents (such as your W-2 and other IRS forms) and your living situation (how many people are in your family, and how many will be in college next year?).
The government uses the information you provide on the FAFSA to determine your family’s Expected Family Contribution or EFC. This number is the dollar amount that your family can reasonably contribute to the total cost of attendance. The federal government will then send you and your college a Student Aid Report (SAR) that will provide your EFC and other important information.
The important thing to remember about the EFC is that it is not the amount you will have to pay out of pocket for college. Your family’s contribution may come in the form of assistance with travel expenses (like gas and car insurance), housing/food (like living at home or giving you money for groceries), or other miscellaneous expenses. Your family is likely already covering these costs.
The college you attend will estimate your cost of attendance and then subtract the EFC to determine your financial need. Once they determine this they can put together a financial aid package to help you pay for college. The financial aid package they put together can include grants, work-study, student loans, and any scholarships that you have received.
FAFSA is released on October 1 of every year. This is because the FAFSA uses information from your W-2 and taxes from two years ago. This means that a senior completing the 2017-2018 FAFSA would utilize their 2015 income information.
The recommended date to complete your FAFSA is February 14 (Arizona’s birthday). Completing your FAFSA by this date ensures that your college receives the information by March 1 in time to give you consideration when they have the most financial aid money available.
Most students complete the FAFSA online. Go to studentaid.gov (NOT fafsa.com) to start your FAFSA or learn more about it. If you prefer to complete a paper version and mail it in, you can print a pdf, or call 1.800.433.3243 to request that a paper version be mailed to you. Keep in mind that the online version is faster and more accurate. Errors on the paper version can delay the government’s ability to determine your EFC.
You can estimate your EFC using the FAFSA4caster on the FAFSA website. You can also estimate your financial aid at each of the Arizona universities using the tools on their websites.