Skip to main contentSkip to login

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.

What is Embark

Since 1995, Embark has been the leading provider of online application and admissions software to schools and universities. We’ve partnered with them to offer a free, fast, and easy way to complete your FAFSA®.

Where and how to apply for federal student aid—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, 2019 for the 2020-2021 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.

Complete your FAFSA®

You are now leaving salliemae.com
and going to our trusted partner Embark’s site.

Any information you provide will be shared directly with Embark and will be covered under the terms of the Embark privacy policy.

I acknowledge

Our partner Embark makes filing the FAFSA® simpler and faster

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 2020-2021, you’ll likely use your family’s 2018 tax return.
    • W-2 forms
    • Bank statements
    • Information about your family’s investments (real estate, money market funds, stocks, etc.)

Complete your FAFSA®

You are now leaving salliemae.com
and going to our trusted partner Embark’s site.

Any information you provide will be shared directly with Embark and will be covered under the terms of the Embark privacy policy.

I acknowledge

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

When you fill out your FAFSA®, 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 can include tuition, books, supplies, transportation, room and board, and other education-related expenses.


Add these FASFA dates to your calendar

October 1, 2019
Open date: The earliest you can file the FAFSA® for the 2020-21 academic year.

June 30, 2021
The federal deadline for filing the 2020-21 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 FAFSA® deadline on the federal student aid website.

Complete your FAFSA®

You are now leaving salliemae.com
and going to our trusted partner Embark’s site.

Any information you provide will be shared directly with Embark and will be covered under the terms of the Embark privacy policy.

I acknowledge

Financial aid tip

File early to increase your chances of getting aid. Most families who filed the FAFSA® for the 2019-20 academic year waited until January or later–which means they may have missed out on free money for college. We recommend filing as close as possible to the FAFSA® open date, which is October 1.


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®.

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.

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.

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.


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


Find scholarships for college

Use Scholarship Search to get free access to over 5 million scholarships worth up to $24 billion for college. Register now to be entered to win $1,000.

 No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries received. See official rules at SallieMae.com/SweepstakesRules.

 This completion service is not affiliated with or endorsed by the US Department of Education. The FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form is available for free at fafsa.gov.

 This information was gathered on 9/11/19 from https://studentaid.gov/1920/help/students-investments.

 How America Pays for College 2019 report, by Sallie Mae and Ipsos

 This information was gathered on 9/11/19 from https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/eligibility.

 This information was gathered on 9/11/19 from https://studentaid.gov/apply-for-aid/fafsa/review-and-correct/correct.

 This information was gathered on 9/11/19 from http://www.finaid.org/savings/myths.phtml.

 This information was gathered on 9/11/19 from http://www.finaid.org/educators/pj/householdsize.phtml.

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.