FinAid - Financial Aid Advice The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid
Site MapAbout FinAid
Saving for College
Military Aid
Other Types of Aid
Financial Aid Applications
Answering Your Questions
Beyond Financial Aid


Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)


You must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if you want to apply for federal and state financial aid. Many colleges and universities, especially public institutions, also require the FAFSA. You must submit the FAFSA every year that you want aid.

Obtaining a FAFSA

The FAFSA is available in several formats, including online, PDF and paper versions.

The best option is to complete the web-based version of the FAFSA at, known as FAFSA on the Web. It includes step-by-step instructions for completing the online FAFSA as well as preapplication worksheets. You can obtain a PIN to electronically sign the form by visiting

FAFSA on the Web offers several benefits, including:

  • You will get your Student Aid Report (SAR) sooner than with the paper or PDF forms.
  • Your FAFSA will be more accurate, since the FAFSA on the Web has built-in edit checks to catch simple errors and you avoid errors introduced by the OCR process.
  • You will save the federal government money by reducing their processing costs.
  • The online FAFSA allows you to list up to ten colleges, while the paper FAFSA has space only for four colleges.
  • You may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to prefill the answers to some questions on the FAFSA by transferring data from your federal income tax returns. This will save time and may reduce the likelihood that your FAFSA will be selected for verification.

PDF format FAFSAs are available in black and white and color versions in both English and Spanish. These versions of the FAFSA may be printed using the free Adobe PDF Reader software. The PDF version is normally available starting November 15 of each year. Students may also obtain up to three paper copies by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3242) or 1-391-337-5665. (Hearing impaired individuals should call the TTY number 1-800-730-8913.) Paper FAFSAs can be ordered starting November 1 of each year. Note that the FAFSA may not be submitted before January 1, even if the paper and PDF versions are available sooner.

See also the Ask Kantro column, How do I File the FAFSA in January When Tax Returns can't be Filed that Early?

EFC Calculators

FinAid's Financial Aid Estimation Form may be used to calculate your EFC and an estimate of your eligibility for financial aid. This may help you understand a bit about how the federal need analysis system works. There is also a QuickEFC calculator that uses much fewer questions to yield a ballpark estimate of your EFC. Like FinAid's EFC calculator, the US Department of Education's FAFSA4CASTER tool also provides an early estimate of financial aid eligibility.

FAFSA Deadlines

Financial aid applications, such as the FAFSA, should be submitted as soon as possible after January 1, but no sooner. You cannot submit the form before January 1 because the need analysis process uses your financial information from the prior tax year when calculating eligibility for the upcoming award year.

To meet the deadlines for most states you should submit the form no later than March 1, with February 15 being ideal. Do not wait until you've filed your income tax returns with the IRS. You should either estimate your income - you'll have a chance to correct errors later - or complete your tax returns early.


Home | Loans | Scholarships | Savings | Military Aid | Other Types of Aid | Financial Aid Applications
Answering Your Questions | Calculators | Beyond Financial Aid | Site Map | About FinAid®
Copyright © 2016 by FinAid Page, LLC. All rights reserved.
Mark Kantrowitz, Founder