FAFSA Guide - Federal Student Aid

Updated July 14, 2023 · 5 Min Read

A guide to filing a FAFSA, learn more on the necessary steps to qualify for fiancial aid and determining how much financial aid you can receive.

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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a program run by Federal Student Aid (FSA), which is an office of the United States Department of Education. The FAFSA is a simple way to find financial aid, giving you direct access to loans, grants, work study, and scholarships. Furthermore, most states and schools offer additional financial aid opportunities based on the information collected in the FAFSA.

For these reasons, it is a good idea to file a FAFSA every year for the upcoming academic year. While the Federal Student Aid website provides a wealth of information on how to do this, it can still be a daunting process that raises some questions. This guide outlines everything you need to know to file a FAFSA to help pay for your education.

How to Get Financial Aid in Psychology

The best way for psychology majors to get financial aid is to file a FAFSA. While there are many scholarship opportunities out there, they are often intended for students with demonstrated financial need. Filing a FAFSA is the easiest way to establish that you have financial need, and it is often used by states and schools to determine who gets aid.

FAFSA Funding

Grants are financial gifts awarded by state or federal governments, which do not have to be repaid, except in specific circumstances. As a psychology student, you likely only have to repay a grant if you drop out of your courses during the semester for which you were awarded the grant. Scholarships are awarded by private institutions and organizations, such as schools and nonprofits, and do not need to be repaid either, but they tend to be competitive. Work-study programs place students in jobs related to their major when possible and limit the hours of work a student may perform based on the amount of aid awarded. Loans account for the largest portion of money from FSA, and they must be repaid. However, loans from the government have lower interest rates and more generous repayment options than those from private lenders.

You must file a FAFSA for each year you take courses. As long as you make progress toward your degree, you will continue to qualify for aid. To determine how much financial aid you can receive, your estimated family contribution is subtracted from your cost of attendance.

FAFSA Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for financial aid, you must have a high school diploma or GED and be accepted to or enrolled in a degree or certificate program. If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you must be registered for Selective Service. You also need a Social Security number or Alien Registration number. Once you determine your eligibility for financial aid, you must make progress toward your degree each year to maintain that eligibility.

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How to Complete the FAFSA

When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is available on October 1 each year and must be submitted by June 30 of the following year, but some states have their own deadlines. Submitting the FAFSA earlier gives you more access to grants and scholarships as these tend to have limited funds. However, filing the FAFSA when you have the smallest number of assets increases your financial need and helps you get more money for school.

What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?

The first thing you need is a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID), which allows you to file a FAFSA and access your information online. If you are a dependent and your parents are helping you file, they need FSA IDs as well. You must provide your Social Security or Alien Registration number, as well as a driver's license or state ID number. Tax records from the previous year, records of untaxed income, and additional assets are also required. If you are a dependent, you also need this information for your parents or guardians. Finally, you must list schools you are accepted to or plan to apply to, so your FAFSA information can be forwarded to them.

Filling Out Your FAFSA

You can submit your FAFSA online or by mail. Doing it online is faster and easier. If you choose to file by mail, you must either print and fill out a PDF or request an application be sent to you by mail. The online version removes questions that are not relevant to you while the mail version includes all questions.

The application consists of questions split into several categories. Student information questions include the basic information necessary to identify you and ensure your aid is sent to the right person. Student financial information questions concern how much money you can contribute to your education. The student status section determines your marital status, age, and other identifying factors, which impact the amount of money you will be offered. Parent information is only for dependent students and is used to determine the estimated family contribution. Finally, student household information concerns your living situation, which can also impact award amounts. Once you answer all of the relevant questions, you will be asked to agree to a certifying statement indicating that you have provided accurate information.

Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA

  • Apply Online
    Applying online is quicker and easier than by mail, and you can view your results using the FAFSA website.
  • Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
    This tool connects your IRS data to your FAFSA, which not only speeds up the application process but reduces any errors that might arise from confusing tax documents.
  • List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order
    Some states require that you list schools in a certain order to qualify for state-based financial aid. Generally, this means placing schools in that state first, but that may vary.
  • Fill out Every Field of the Form
    Answer every question and provide all required information to secure the most aid.
  • Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances
    You may attach a letter explaining any special circumstances or changes to your financial situation that aren't reflected in the questions you answered.

Submitting the FAFSA

How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?

Whether you fill it out online or through the mail, you must sign your FAFSA. You can do this using an electronic signature online, which is a secure and easy way to handle it. Otherwise, you can print and mail a signature page.

Student Aid Report

Once your FAFSA is reviewed, you will receive what is known as a Student Aid Report, or SAR. The SAR does not tell you how much money you will receive; that comes from your school. It does tell you your expected family contribution, as well as provides your answers to the FAFSA questions. Double check your answers and make corrections if needed. Your SAR will be emailed to you if you included an email address in your information, and it will be sent to the schools you listed on the FAFSA.

How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?

The school in which you are enrolled, or to which you have been accepted, will contact you with an aid offer describing your aid options. You do not have to accept all aid that is offered. For instance, you can accept grants and scholarships, but skip loans.

FAFSA Frequently Asked Questions

What's the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is due by June 30 each year, though some states have earlier deadlines to determine state-based financial aid offers.

Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?

Grades are not considered when awarding financial aid. However, to maintain eligibility, a student must make progress toward their degree.

Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?

There is no age limit for the FAFSA, but applicants must have a high school diploma or a GED.

Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?

Your income will not disqualify you for financial aid altogether, but if you have a high estimated family contribution, you may be disqualified for certain types of funding.

Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?

Your parents' citizenship is not considered on the FAFSA.

How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?

If done online, with all of the relevant information at hand, the entire process can take as little as half an hour. Filing by mail generally takes longer.

Can You File Your FAFSA Before You've Applied to Any Schools?

Yes, but you still have to include at least one school with your FAFSA. This can be a school or schools to which you intend to apply.

Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?

The FSA website has answers to any question you might have about the FAFSA. You can also check with the financial aid office at your school.

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