The FAFSA, officially known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the form that families fill out to apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study funds for college students. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides more than $150 billion in student aid each year.
Your eligibility for federal grants (which don’t have to be repaid) and federal loans (which do) will generally be based on your financial need, as determined by the information you supply on your FAFSA. You can get a preview of whether the FAFSA is likely to qualify you for federal grants by using the FAFSA4caster on the Department of Education website.
Even if the FAFSA4caster indicates that your family’s income and assets put you out of the range for grants, it’s still worth going ahead and completing the FAFSA. That’s because most colleges, state scholarship agencies, and foundations use the FAFSA in deciding who gets their scholarship money, as well as how much each student will receive. Also, filing a FAFSA automatically qualifies you for low-cost federal student loans of at least $5,500 a year.
You can find out more about the FAFSA, including the deadlines for completing it, at the Federal Financial Aid website.