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. Important changes are coming to the FAFSA in 2016! 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.

What is changing on the FAFSA?

There are two major changes you should be aware of for school year 2017–2018. 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. This change will bring your FAFSA application schedule more in line with your college admission application schedule.

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. This change will make it simpler to submit complete information just once, and may allow you to complete your FAFSA by importing tax information electronically from the IRS (in the past, students often had to use estimates and correct figures after their families had filed tax returns).

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.

School YearFAFSA AvailableSubmission PeriodIncome & Tax Year Used
July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017  January 1, 2016 January 1, 2016–June 30, 2017  2015*
July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018  October 1, 2016 October 1, 2016–June 30, 2018  2015*
July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019  October 1, 2017 October 1, 2017–June 30, 2019  2016


*Even though you will use the same 2015 income and tax info for the 2016–2017  and 2017–2018  school years, you will still need to complete a FAFSA for each academic year you are seeking financial aid. The IRS Data Retrieval tool will streamline this process.

When is the FAFSA due?

The 2017-2018 FAFSA was released on October 1, 2016. You may submit the form between October 1, 2016 and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2018. Keep in mind that many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid. The Princeton Review recommends submitting your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 so that you don't miss out on available aid (Applying early action? Read our FAFSA tips for applying early.)

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.

What next?

You need a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) to start your financial aid process. Even if you previously had a Federal Student Aid PIN, you will need a new FSA ID to complete this year's FAFSA (don't worry, you can link your information from your PIN). You can create an FSA ID before you even begin the college application process; visit the Federal Student Aid website to get your FSA ID. 

The Princeton Review recommends submitting your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.

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: