What do you know about the FAFSA? Chances are you don’t know a whole lot and yet this is the form that’s going to decide whether you’re eligible for scholarships and financial aid through the college or university that you’re interested in applying to. If you’re just getting started in college or even if you’ve been there a while it’s important to understand what this form really does for you and why you’re going to need it in order to avoid getting huge loans and repayment plans when you graduate from school.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This means that you don’t have to pay for the application (it’s free) and you fill it out to get help paying for school from the federal government. In actuality there are a lot of different people who look at your FAFSA form once you’ve gotten it all filled out. That’s because the FAFSA will break down what your family (and you) had for income the year before and what you had for expenses. It also looks at things like age, poverty levels and more to determine what type of contribution you and your parents can make to your education.


Yes Your Parents Count

If you’ve moved out of your house you will still need to count your parents income towards your income on the FAFSA. This means that the federal government is still going to assume that your parents are contributing towards your college education even if you’re not actually getting any assistance from them. If you’ve moved out or if your parents aren’t willing to help you this will be a pretty big pitfall for your ability to get scholarships and loans.


There are a few ways that this can be changed however:

  1. If you’ve been legally emancipated.
  2. If you are 24 years of age.
  3. If you are married.
  4. If you are working towards your masters/doctorate.
  5. If you are in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  6. If you are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  7. If you are providing more than half of the support to a child.
  8. If your parents were deceased or you were a dependent of the court since turning 13.


There are some additional characteristics that could qualify you as being independent but in general you’ll be required to supply parent information if none of these apply to you.


How Does it Help?

The FAFSA form helps you because it does a lot of math for you and for the schools you’re applying to. It will take all the numbers you put in and crunch them down into a number that represents how much you can afford to pay for your education and how much your parents can afford to pay towards your education. Once it has that number it will find out how much money it will cost for you to attend school for one year at your chosen college or university.


The difference between these two numbers is the amount of assistance you need in order to be able to go to school. This is the amount of financial aid that you need. Now this isn’t necessarily going to be the amount of financial aid that you’re going to get. Not everyone gets the amount of help they’d really like to have. It means that your chosen school and the government are going to look at those numbers and they’re going to figure out what they can afford to give you.


What You’ll Get

In most cases you’ll be able to get at least a small portion of the money you need simply given to you without you having to ever pay it back. This is in the form of scholarships, fellowships and donations. This money is simply given to you as long as you continue to meet the requirements. Some will continue so that you’ll get the same scholarship the next year as well if you continue to fulfill all requirements. Some may be a one time scholarship that you’ll be eligible for only one year.


Student Loans

Once the money you get in scholarships is gone you’ll be offered student loans. Now student loans are offered in two different ways depending on how they accrue interest. The first are subsidized loans and these are the ones you want primarily because you don’t have to pay any interest on them during the period of time that you’re in school. Of course you won’t get as much money through these loans because of this benefit. You’ll only get a small portion of the money you still need through this method. The rest will be offered as an unsubsidized loan.


Unsubsidized loans will require you to pay all the interest from the time you take out the loan. You won’t have to make any payments on either of these types of loans until after you’ve stopped attending school at least half time and completed the deferment period which is intended to help you find work after graduation. Once this time comes you’ll have to pay back your loans. For a subsidized loan interest begins to accrue once you stop going to school but isn’t due until your grace period is over. For an unsubsidized loan interest accrues from the start but also isn’t due until after the grace period. Check out more information about these types of loans right here. You can also get more information about private loans and how to apply right here.


If you fill out your FAFSA form your school and the government can see what you need and they can offer you several different ways to get what you need. If you don’t fill out this form (it’s not explicitly required after all) you won’t be able to get the assistance that you might need or want. Who doesn’t want to get free help from the government and their school to help them go to college after all? I know this really helped me because I ended up with a few grants that I didn’t need to pay back. Definitely a bonus.