DEFINITION of 'Free Application For Federal Student Aid - FAFSA'

Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the official form used to request federal, state and school assistance in paying for college. The FAFSA asks questions to determine the student’s level of financial need and establish his or her expected family contribution, or the amount of money the student and parents are expected to pay out of pocket for the student’s college expenses. The federal government, the colleges the student is applying to, and the states those colleges are located in all use the FAFSA in determining how much financial aid to grant a student who applies for college financial aid.

BREAKING DOWN 'Free Application For Federal Student Aid - FAFSA'

The office of Federal Student Aid, a division of the U.S. Department of Education, annually provides more than $120 billion in federal grants, work-study funds, and loans to some 13 million students who qualify for federal assistance. The office manages student financial assistance programs, as well as develops the FAFSA and processes the submitted applications.

How the FAFSA is Used to Apply for Aid

Every year, millions of college students and parents of college students fill out this form. The application process is rigorous, requiring the disclosure of a great deal of financial information. The FAFSA’s numerous questions cover basic identifying information for the student and his or her parents (name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) such as

1. Whether the student has any drug convictions

2. What level of education the student’s parents completed

3. How much income the student, the student’s spouse (if applicable), and the student’s parents earned last year

4. Whether the student or parents receive income from federal assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

Students or their parents must submit a FAFSA each year to apply for financial aid. Applicants can submit the FAFSA by mail, but submitting it online has several advantages including space to list 10 colleges instead of four, a faster response and a system for catching application errors. The FAFSA costs nothing to submit and must be filed between January 1 and June 30 for the upcoming school year. State deadlines vary significantly, and some are based on postmark date, some are based on date received and some are based on date processed. Student aid eligibility for the upcoming school year is based on the prior year’s tax return. Because the FAFSA is based on tax return data, it is best to complete that year’s tax return early before completing the FAFSA. 

  1. Student Debt

    Loans used to pay for college tuition, and that are due after ...
  2. Expected Family Contribution - ...

    The amount of money that a student's family is expected to contribute ...
  3. Federal Supplemental Educational ...

    A program that provides funds for undergraduate students who ...
  4. Perkins Loan

    A loan program that provides low-interest student loans to undergraduate ...
  5. Federal Direct Loan Program

    The Federal Direct Loan Program provides low-interest loans to ...
  6. Tuition Insurance

    A type of insurance that allows families to recoup some or all ...
Related Articles
  1. Personal Finance

    Avoid These 6 FAFSA Errors to Get College Money

    Follow this tip sheet to ensure you don't make these common FAFSA errors and that you get the financial aid your family deserves.
  2. Personal Finance

    How to Game the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® Application

    It's more work than the FAFSA, but you need it to unlock private student aid from roughly 280 schools and scholarship programs.
  3. Personal Finance

    How to Up Your Chances of Getting Student Aid

    Getting the best possible package for a college fund depends on minimizing assets and maximizing the energy you use to find possible funding sources.
  4. Personal Finance

    How to Manage 529 Plans for Maximum Financial Aid

    Understand how different types of 529 plans affect financial aid, and you'll increase your possibility of getting funds.
  5. Personal Finance

    A Quick Guide to How FAFSA Loans Work

    If you’re headed to college and want to know how to apply for financial aid, this is where you need to start.
  6. Personal Finance

    When Saving for College Is a Bad Idea

    Is there a time when saving for college is a bad idea? A close look at financial-aid rules.
  7. Personal Finance

    A College Financial Plan for the Student and Parent

    It’s crucial for parents and students to explore all funding options when planning for college.
  8. Personal Finance

    A Beginner's Guide to Getting Student Loans

    Follow these 5 steps and you'll be well on your way to knowing which loans to go after – and which college really offers you the best deal.
  9. Personal Finance

    How Financial Aid for College Tuition Has Changed

    Financial aid for college tuition has gone high-tech and currently favors higher-income applicants.
  10. Personal Finance

    How to Make the Most of a 529 Savings Plan

    529 plans can be an extremely effective way to pay for college expenses, but be aware that there can be some pitfalls with distributions and financial aid.
  1. Why are private student loans generally more expensive than federal loans?

    Make the right decision between a federal student loan and a private student loan when looking for financial aid for your ... Read Answer >>
  2. Student loans, federal and private: what's the difference?

    Learn about the differences between federal and private student loans, and discover the types of federal funding available ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center