How the FAFSA Works

Who Can Fill Out the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is for any student who plans to enroll -- or is currently enrolled -- in postsecondary education. "Postsecondary education" means any form of education beyond high school. That includes two- and four-year colleges, graduate schools, professional schools (like law, business or medical school) and just about any program rewarding a degree, certificate or credit, including most vocational and technical schools.

Most people fill out their first FAFSA when they're beginning the college application process. However, you need to submit a new FAFSA application for each year that you intend to receive financial aid [source: FAFSA]. So if you attend a four-year college, you will need to fill out and submit the FAFSA four separate times. This is because the government needs the most up-to-date and accurate financial information to make its calculations.

Not everyone living in the U.S. is eligible to receive federal student aid. First of all, you need to be a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident or an "eligible non-citizen" like a U.S. national. This one gets complicated, because there are exceptions for people who are born in several Pacific Islands like the Federated States of Micronesia, American Samoa and the Marshall Islands. There are also exceptions for people with refugee status, victims of human trafficking and those who have been granted political asylum [source: FAFSA]. For all special considerations, please contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID.

If you're a U.S. citizen, you must have a Social Security number. If you're a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you must also register for the Selective Service. The final pre-requisite for receiving federal financial aid is a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (GED).

In general, people with criminal records are still eligible for federal financial aid. The only exception is if you were convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs while you were receiving federal financial aid in the past [source: FAFSA].

If you're eligible to receive student aid, then it's time to prepare to fill out the FAFSA.