In the United States, the average student's financial aid journey begins with a single application. The Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may be one of the most important forms a student fills out, even more important than all those college applications.
The FAFSA is distributed and processed by the federal government and must be completed annually by every student seeking aid. First-year students fill out a new FAFSA, while returning students complete an abbreviated form known as a Renewal FAFSA. Though it may seem like a chore to keep completing this form each year, every FAFSA you fill out means a new chance for increased student aid, which may reduce your out-of-pocket costs.
But how can a single form be so important? The FAFSA is the primary source that the federal government uses to determine how student aid should be distributed. With more than $100 billion available each year, there's a good chance for almost any student to qualify for some assistance [source: US Department of Education].
The information provided on a FAFSA also affects your out-of-pocket costs and is used by state governments and the colleges themselves in developing aid packages for students. A student who fails to complete the FAFSA or misses the deadline shouldn't expect any type of financial aid from his or her school or the government.
Even if you think you won't qualify for assistance of any kind, it's still important to get your FAFSA submitted on time. First, it's a requirement at many schools, and it can leave a bad impression if you fail to submit this form. Second, and more importantly, you never know if you'll qualify for some type of financial aid. In this case, failing to file your FAFSA on time is the same thing as turning down free money.
Ready to get started with your FAFSA and find out how much financial aid you may qualify for? Read on to the next section to learn where to find this form and what you need to know as you complete it.