Federal Student Aid - FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
Students must complete the FAFSA to apply for federal financial aid. Colleges will use a student’s FAFSA information to determine eligibility for federal, state, and institutional aid. Check out this quick guide to FAFSA.
The Federal Student Aid Information Center (1-800-4FED-AID/1-800-433-3243) is also a great resource if students have any questions about completing the FAFSA. Representatives are available over the phone Monday through Friday: 8 a.m. - 10 p.m. ET and Saturday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. ET.
The FAFSA is available from October 1st to June 30th each year. Most colleges have filing deadlines as early as the first week of January so advise students to confirm school-specific deadlines. Federal financial aid is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis so encourage students to apply as soon as possible!
Getting Ready to Apply
The FAFSA asks for personal and financial information for the student and his/her parent/guardian. Advise students to review and gather the necessary documents prior to beginning the FAFSA. Distribute a Family Income Form to identify students who might qualify for additional academic and financial supports based on income.
Get an FSA ID for students
Students must sign the FAFSA using an FSA ID. Save time to making sure students create one before they fill out the FAFSA.
Get an FSA ID for parents
Check with students who might have had siblings attend college - their parents may already have one. If you are working with mixed-status families, parents will not apply for an FSA ID, but instead print and mail the FAFSA signature page.
Filling out the FAFSA
It’s helpful to review the steps of the FAFSA with students prior to starting the FAFSA. Use this step-by-step FAFSA guide in your work with pairs. Or watch this video.
Student Aid Report (SAR)
After students submit their FAFSA, they will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), a summary of the information submitted on the FAFSA. The SAR will contain a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the number that’s used by colleges to calculate how much financial aid a student is eligible to receive. Advise students to review their SAR carefully to confirm that all the information is correct.
Updating the FAFSA
Updates to the FAFSA can be made after it is processed. Situations in which students may need to make updates include: updated financial information, adding or removing colleges, any mistakes in reported information.
Financial Aid Verification
After completing the FAFSA, some students may be informed that their application has been selected for financial aid verification, which is the process that colleges use to confirm that the data reported in the FAFSA is accurate. Being selected for financial aid verification doesn’t mean you are accused of doing something wrong. If students find themselves selected for verification, it’s important to complete the verification and submit the requested documentation by the school’s deadline, or they may not be able to receive financial aid. Learn more about the financial aid verification process and what to do, if selected, here.
State financial aid
Most state financial aid programs require a separate application from federal financial aid. The FAFSA may link a student to their specific state’s financial aid application at confirmation of submission page. However, advise students to research their specific state’s financial aid program and application process.
Maryland Education Assistance Grant
CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE
The PROFILE is an application for nonfederal financial aid, such as institutional aid, developed by The College Board. There is a fee for completing The PROFILE, however, fee waivers are granted automatically based on financial information entered in the application. The PROFILE is often used by private schools and scholarship programs to award institutional aid – see list of participating institutions and programs here. Advise students to confirm with specific colleges or scholarship programs to confirm deadlines and determine whether The PROFILE is required.
Check out these CSS Profile walk-throughs from College Vine and MFEA.
Additional Resources for Financial Aid Applications
FAFSA Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid
5 Myths about Parent Information on the FAFSA
4 Tips for Students with Divorced Parents
Who is My Parent when I Fill out FAFSA?
Student Guide to FAFSA (available in multiple languages)