Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step toward getting federal aid for college or graduate school. The FAFSA form is the primary application for federal, state and college based financial aid (including Pell Grant, Federal student loans and Federal Work-Study). This is a form that EVERY student applying for aid should fill out!! However, to be considered for federal financial aid, every student must submit a completed FAFSA form on time.

(Suggested Read: 5 Do's for Filing the FAFSA Application; FAFSA FAQ's)

The  U.S. Department of Education requires the FAFSA form to determine a student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC). All college students are expected to contribute toward their education costs. How much each student and their family contribute depends on their financial situation — this amount is called Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Calculating EFC can indicate how much money each family can contribute toward the cost of college based on data such as income, assets, family size, and the number of family members attending college.  An EFC estimate is determined by the federal processor from the information students provide on their FAFSA form. Also, a variety of online tools are available for students to estimate their EFC on the Internet. 

Once the student's FAFSA is processed, they will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) with their official EFC figure. the EFC information is also sent to the schools listed on the FAFSA for each student. The financial aid officer at the select institutions then use each student's EFC amount to determine their financial aid package.

(Read: our exclusive financial aid FAQs; Financial aid guideFAFSA questions; for more detail information.)

Determining Financial Need:

To get started, students must involve their parents to add up the total cost of attending each of their target college(s) for one year. Students can gain a clear idea of the costs by researching each school through  College search. Many colleges provide information to estimate total annual cost of attending their institution. 

Note: Add up fixed items such as: tuition, housing, food services, etc. Also, add the estimated cost of books, clothes, personal expenses, supplies, travel to and from school, and entertainment. Students should try to be realistic in setting these amounts. Now students should take the total estimated cost of one year at college and subtract that amount with their EFC amount. This will give them a general idea of what their financial aid "need" is.

Need is defined as the difference between the cost of attending college and a student's EFC:

Cost of attendance (COA) – EFC = Financial need


$20,000= Total cost of attending college 'A'

$5,000= Estimated EFC (based on financial information provided on FAFSA)

$20,000-$5,000= $15,000 is financial need

Note: It is financial need, which makes a student eligible for various types of aid at a particular college. Typically, a student's EFC will remain the same for each college, but their eligibility for aid will vary with the cost of each college. Based on each student's financial need, the financial aid office will then prepare a financial aid package.

Eligibility for FAFSA:

Nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial aid, including low-interest Federal Stafford and/or parent PLUS loans, regardless of income or circumstances, provided that an applicant:

•is a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen;
•has a valid social security number;
•has a valid high school diploma or GED;
•is registered with the U.S. Selective Service (if you are a male ages 18 to 25);
•has completed filling out the FAFSA form with the promise to use any federal aid recieved for educational purposes;
•does not owe refunds on any federal student grants;
•is not in default on any student loans; and
•is not found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs;

We have a comprehensive section on frequently asked FAFSA questions-which covers details on filing/ applying for FAFSA, requirements, deadlines, tips and more.