Enrolled in graduate school or professional school? You may also be eligible to receive graduate school financial aid by submitting a FAFSA application.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is a free online application for financial aid eligibility for college. It’s used by schools to put together your federal student aid package for one year of college. This package can include grants for college, work-study, federal student loans, and even state and school financial aid.

While financial aid is not the same as student loans, you must first complete the FAFSA form to apply for a federal student loan. Completing the FAFSA online is convenient—and it can make your financial aid search easier.

How to apply for the FAFSA—steps for beginners

Once you’re ready to begin the FAFSA, keep these tips in mind:

1. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. Federal student aid applications can be submitted starting October 1 for the following school year (for example, starting October 1, 2022 for the 2023-2024 school year). Federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so know your deadlines and apply as early as you can to maximize your financial aid.

2. Think local. College and state financial aid deadlines vary by state. Check your state’s financial aid deadlines.

3. Apply for the FAFSA annually. You need to fill out the FAFSA each year that you are—or plan to be—a student.

What information you'll need to file your FAFSA

To file your FAFSA, first gather all of the documents you’ll need to reference:
  • Your driver's license and Social Security number
  • You may need your parents’ email addresses so that they can supply their Social Security numbers and birthdates.
  • Permission from the family member who completed a tax return if you’d like to import information directly from the IRS. If you prefer not to import it, then you’ll need to provide other financial information:
  • Federal income tax return: if you’re applying for academic year 2022-2023, you’ll likely use your family’s 2020 tax return.
  • W-2 forms
  • Bank statements
  • Information about your family’s investments (real estate, money market funds, stocks, etc.1)

How is your FAFSA used to calculate your federal student aid eligibility?

When you apply for financial aid, you’ll provide personal demographic information, as well as financial information, such as your family’s federal income tax returns, W-2 forms, bank statements, and information on your family’s investments.

This financial information is used to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is an index number that colleges use to determine how much federal financial aid you’re eligible to receive. Your EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law and the information from your FAFSA.

Your eligibility for aid depends on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance (COA) at the school you'll be attending. The COA is the estimated cost to attend for one academic year and, if you attend at least half time, can include tuition, books, supplies, transportation, room and board, and other education-related expenses.

When is the FAFSA due?

October 1, 2022
Open date: The earliest you can file the FAFSA for the 2023-2024 academic year.

June 30, 2023
The federal deadline for filing the 2022-2023 FAFSA.

States and colleges have their own FAFSA deadlines. Be sure to check the FAFSA deadline for each college you’re applying to. You can check your state's deadline on the federal student aid website.

Do you have to pay the FAFSA back?

While it may seem like you're getting money from the FAFSA, it's actually just a form and process to get federal student aid, not a student loan. If you receive federal student loans as part of your financial aid award, you would have to repay them.

Debunking financial aid myths

Myth: My family's income is too high to qualify for federal financial aid.
Fact: Student and family income isn’t the only factor that the government uses to decide if a student qualifies for federal financial aid. The only way to know for sure if you’ll qualify is to fill out the FAFSA.2

Myth: My family has money saved for college so we won't get any federal financial aid.
Fact: Savings might not be a major factor when a school decides if a student qualifies for Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. There are allowances for savings and assets.2

Myth: My sibling wasn't eligible for much federal financial aid last year, so I won't be eligible when I enter college.
Fact: Actually, the number of family members in college might have a favorable impact on your financial aid eligibility.3

Myth: I’m only attending college part-time, so I won't be eligible for federal financial aid.
Fact: Financial aid is available for part-time students. Talk to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in attending about aid for part-time students.4

"There are kids who think, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna get anything from FAFSA.’ Just fill it out!"

Bryana B., Bridging the Dream ’16 scholarship winner

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1. This information was gathered on 9/23/20 from https://studentaid.gov/help/info-needed.

2. This information was gathered on 9/23/20 from https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/eligibility.

3. This information was gathered on 9/23/20 from https://finaid.org/educators/householdsize.

4. This information was gathered on 9/23/20 from https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/eligibility/requirements.

Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

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

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 Sallie Mae 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.