People tend to think that the FAFSA application is overly complicated. Actually the opposite is true. Submitting a FAFSA application will cover a number of different financial aid opportunities all in the same form: Pell Grants, work study, loans, and more. It actually simplifies the process. As such, the FAFSA application is a vital component of applying for financial aid.

There are a number of eligibility requirements for FAFSA. The most important of these is financial need: calculated by family income, size, and expenses. You must also be a U.S. citizen, though it is possible to be a non-citizen and still be eligible for aid. To prove citizenship, you should provide a Social Security number–unless you reside in Micronesia, Palau, or the Marshall Islands.

Next, you need to have a valid high school diploma. In addition, you need to be enrolled or accepted by a college or university. However, these last two are only necessary to receive aid, not to have aid approved. You may be submitting a FAFSA application before you graduate high school and before you are accepted to a particular college. Finally, you should not have any outstanding defaults on federal loans and you cannot be convicted of certain drug-related crimes.

FAFSA Application

FAFSA Application

The Expected Family Contribution

By far the most important factor in determining FAFSA eligibility is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). You can use the FAFSA website to determine your EFC. This is just an estimate, not the official final tally, but it is still very helpful in determining what you will need from an aid package. The final tally will come on your Student Aid Report (SAR).

If the student is not currently enrolled, it can be difficult to calculate the final tally because you will not yet know the Cost of Attendance (COS) of the school where the student will be attending. The SAR will factor in the year of enrollment, enrollment status (If the student has yet to be enrolled), the COS, as well as the Expected Family Contribution. The end result will determine how much federal aid will be awarded.

The final award is determined by the school where you will be attending. Each school will have different guidelines that determine the amount of money that will be given out. For example, one school may award more aid for a family with a higher Estimated Family Contribution. It is important to research the financial aid protocols of each school in addition to filing a FAFSA application.