Although money shouldn’t be the only consideration when choosing which college to attend, it’s an important factor in the decision. If you’re a returning college student or a high school student hoping to attend college – or maybe the parent or guardian of a high schooler who is considering higher education – then getting a grasp on what the FAFSA is and how to complete it (on time!) is critical.

What is the FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The official website for the FAFSA is www.studentaid.gov.

Note: Be careful of scammers out there who pretend to be offering the FAFSA; if any website, email, or caller asks for a payment in order to complete the form, it’s not legit. The FAFSA is a FREE application.

In short, the FAFSA is a form you fill out with various bits of personal information, most notably financial information. By providing consent to this financial information, the U.S. Department of Education can determine the types of financial aid you may qualify for, and the amount.

Why is the FAFSA important?

According to CollegeBoard.org, more than 13 million students who file for the FAFSA receive a total of more than $120 billion in grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Education. It’s widely considered to be one of the most important steps to complete if a student needs financial aid for college.1

Most students nationwide need some kind of federal assistance to afford college, and many colleges and universities require their students to fill out a FAFSA. One reason is because some university scholarships are decided based on financial need, so the college needs to be able to determine whether you qualify.

Overall, the FAFSA is important because, if you don’t fill it out, you won’t qualify for any federal financial aid, and you may not qualify for aid from your college or university either. But if you complete the FAFSA, you may qualify for federal financial aid in addition to financial aid directly from your school! It’s a free application that costs you nothing but some time, and it can literally make thousands of dollars of difference when it comes to your higher education.

Who should fill out the FAFSA?

Anyone who is hoping to receive financial aid from the U.S. government should fill out the FAFSA. Additionally, some colleges and universities may require FAFSA completion. Even if you completed the FAFSA last year, if you are attending college again next year and hoping to receive federal financial aid, you must complete the FAFSA again with up-to-date information.

“Any student attending college should fill out the FAFSA. You may think that you won't be eligible for financial aid, but you may unexpectedly qualify,” said Kimberly Noe, director of Financial Aid at University of the Cumberlands. "It is especially important for Kentucky residents attending Cumberlands to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible, as state grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and will be in high demand."

How do I fill it out?

STEP 1

Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) account. You will need an FSA account to fill out the FAFSA online, complete other online forms required to receive aid, and review the federal aid you’ve received. To create an FSA account, you will need your social security number and your own cell phone number and/or email address. Remember your username and password for this account! You’ll need to use it to complete required forms later in the process.

STEP 2

Once you have created an FSA account, visit www.studentaid.gov. This is the ONLY site where you can access the FAFSA; other sites are scams. Filling out the application is free.

STEP 3

At www.studentaid.gov, you will see many links to learn more about topics related to federal financial aid. Feel free to peruse the articles. Once you’re ready to begin filling out the FAFSA form, simply click the link entitled Apply for Aid Using the FAFSA® Form.

STEP 4

You’ll want to complete the form that corresponds with the academic year in which you (or your child) will be attending college. For example, if you will be beginning college courses in August 2024 and continuing classes through spring 2025, you need to complete the 2024-25 FAFSA form. Click the corresponding button on the FAFSA website to access the form.

STEP 5

Follow instructions to complete the form and submit it when finished. Remember to send your FAFSA to the school you are attending or the schools you’re considering attending! You may select up to 20 schools to receive your FAFSA form. (We hope that University of the Cumberlands is on the list! Use our school code: 001962.)

Note: If you have specific questions about the FAFSA (for instance, who qualifies as a “contributor”) or questions about how the FAFSA has changed compared to last year, you can watch a few helpful videos. You may also read some useful blog posts for answers to more questions you may have.

STEP 6

Keep an eye on your email inbox. Once you submit the FAFSA form, you'll receive a confirmation page via email that displays your completion date, data release number, and next steps. You'll also see information about federal aid for which you may be eligible. In addition, you'll receive a FAFSA Submission Summary containing the information submitted on the FAFSA application. 

When are the deadlines?

The 2024-25 FAFSA opened on December 31, 2023, meaning families could begin submitting their FAFSA forms as early as January 1, 2024. Colleges may have their own deadlines for when students must submit the FAFSA, so check with the college you are currently attending – or the colleges you’re considering attending – to find out those dates. Early submission is recommended!

Okay, I just filled out the FAFSA. Now what?

First off, well done! You are one step closer to learning what kind of financial aid you qualify for, and how much. This information is key when comparing schools. For now, review your FAFSA Submission Summary and make all necessary corrections to your application, if any. The colleges you included on your FAFSA may reach out to you by email, so keep on the lookout!

Is completing the FAFSA a one-time thing?

No, the FAFSA is required for completion every year. Since many people’s financial situations change from time to time, it is required that you fill out a new FAFSA every year to qualify for federal funding.

 

Citations and helpful resources:

  1. What is the FAFSA? | https://blog.collegeboard.org/what-is-the-fafsa
  2. Frequent Questions: All About the FAFSA | https://understandingfafsa.org/all-about-the-fafsa/
  3. 2024–25 FAFSA FAQs – YouTube | https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtr3wy4M_CJ2Hrd0UwCAWJOgOPu8l_ZLf
  4. New FAFSA Archives | FAFSA: The How-To Guide for High School Students | https://understandingfafsa.org/category/new-fafsa/