Why the FAFSA® is important

How the FAFSA® can help you pay for school

I’ve helped families manage their money for nearly two decades. My advice for college-bound high school seniors, college, and grad students?

Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)—it could translate into hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

There’s serious money on the line

Filing a FAFSA® is the single most important thing you can do to get money for college. It’s the gateway to more than $150 billion in college grants, work-study funds, and federal student loans, as well as certain state-based aid.

Most students receive some type of financial aid, so you should fill out a FAFSA® application even if you don't think you qualify. Some families assume they won't qualify for financial aid and don't even bother completing the FAFSA®. This could be a huge mistake. In 2022, students left an estimated $3.6 billion in Pell Grants on the table by not submitting the FAFSA®.footnote 1

It’s free—and quick to complete

The first “F” in FAFSA® stands for free. You don’t need to pay to file it, so you want to watch out for sites that charge fees or make promises that sound too good to be true.

On top of being free, completing the FAFSA® is quicker than you think. The time you spend completing an application could translate into hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

It can be essential for some schools

The FAFSA® isn’t just for people who want or need federal student loans. Its purpose is also to determine aid you won't have to pay back, like college scholarshipsgrants, and even work-study funding.

Finally, some private scholarships require a FAFSA® as part of their application process. That's why completing one is so important!

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Another pro-tip? The FAFSA® is first-come, first-served. Apply as soon as you can (it opens in December 2023*) to take advantage of federal aid for college. 

Check out this free FAFSA® Guide for step-by-step help.

Check out this page for more FAFSA® information and tips.

*The FAFSA® typically opens October 1 every year, but due to new changes in the application, the opening date has been pushed to December 2023 for this year only.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey financial, tax, or legal advice. We make no claims about the accuracy or adequacy of this information. These materials may not reflect our view or endorsement. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.

footnote 1. This information was gathered on 07/26/23. https://www.ncan.org/news/629039/NCAN-Report-In-2022-High-School-Seniors-Left-3.58-Billion-on-the-Table-in-Pell-Grants

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.

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