In order to qualify for federal financial aid at any U.S. college, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Below, you'll find our answers to some of the most common questions about the financial aid process.

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What is the FAFSA ?

The FAFSA is a long, comprehensive application form that you must complete and submit to the government in order to receive federal financial aid. Once you fill it out, the government will share your information with your chosen schools. The form asks for information about your income, the size of your household, and how many of your family members currently attend school. You will need your parent or guardian to help supply a lot of this information. Once all of your numbers have been submitted, the government analyzes the information to determine your expected family contribution, or EFC.

When should I fill out the FAFSA ?

The government makes the new form available on January 1st of each year, but this will change for the 2017-2018 school year. You must fill out a new FAFSA for each year you plan on attending school. Make sure you fill out your new forms online so you can just make updates instead of redoing the entire application. For example, if you fill out the FAFSA before you file your taxes, you'll need to estimate your income and then update your application later with the correct information. The schools that you're applying to, or the one you're currently attending, will use your results to put together their financial aid offers for you. You should receive this information in early spring.

For school year July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017

The FAFSA will be released on January 1, 2016. You can submit the FAFSA between January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.

For school year July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018 

The FAFSA will be released on October 1, 2016. You will submit the FAFSA between October 1, 2016 and June, 30, 2018.

What else do I need to know about the new FAFSA changes?

There are two changes you should be aware of for school year 2017-18. No need to stress! These changes are intended to make your life easier.

Earlier submission date

Beginning in 2017, the FAFSA will be released every year on October 1st.

Income you report

Beginning in 2017, you'll report income from an earlier tax year. For example, for the 2017-2018 FAFSA, you'll report income from tax year 2015. Since you'll have already filed your tax return for that year, you won't have to submit changes later!

How much money will I get?

The amount of aid you receive can be hard to predict. You can get federal funds, federal or state sponsored grants, loans, or some combination of all three. You can also apply for a work-study program at your school. These are usually part-time campus jobs. The actual amount of money you receive will vary depending on your school, and your financial situation.

What if I don't get enough money?

If you're completing your FAFSA for the first time, you'll want to compare financial aid offers from all the schools where you're accepted, and make the best decision for you and your family. If you're a returning student, schedule a meeting with the office of financial aid right away. Colleges want to retain and graduate their students, so they are often able to work with you to find a solution.

Check out our video on everything you want to know about financial aid:


Plus: Rob Franek talks about the cost of college on Good Morning Dallas: