College can be a worthwhile—but expensive—investment. Affording school isn’t easy, which is why federal and state governments help.
Federal Student Aid, part of the U.S. Department of Education, provides more than $112 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds each year. Any student can apply for aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is a form used to determine financial aid eligibility for aid such as Pell Grants, federal student loans and federal work-study. But the FAFSA is also used by schools to decide eligibility for other funding. That’s why it’s important to submit a FAFSA even if you won’t get federal aid. The FAFSA may help you receive state aid, and your school may offer additional aid based on your application.
How do I apply?
The FAFSA can be submitted online, takes about 30 minutes to complete and is free. The online FAFSA includes step-by-step directions and access to real-time FAFSA help. You can also get paper FAFSAs from high school counselors or college financial aid offices. You can request one by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. The form asks things like parent information for dependent students, Social Security Number and tax information. After filing, you’ll get a student aid report (SAR) with information about eligibility for aid offers.
Myth: Our income is too high to qualify for aid.
Fact: Many families who could qualify for aid don’t apply, thinking they don’t have need. But factors like your home and retirement savings aren’t counted in expected family contributions since the Department of Education doesn’t expect parents to sell their homes or use retirement funds for college. Even families with high income may qualify, especially if they have several family members in college. You can still apply for federal student loans as part of federal aid (rates can be lower than private, and creditworthiness isn’t an eligibility factor).
Myth: It doesn’t matter when I apply.
Fact: FAFSA applications open Oct. 1, and submissions end in June. But some states award aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. FAFSA deadlines may vary based on the college and state.
Myth: I have a college savings plan, so I won’t qualify.
Fact: College savings plans, like 529 accounts, won’t automatically reduce aid.
Myth: My grades aren’t good enough.
Fact: While grades may affect college acceptance and scholarships, they won’t disqualify you from most federal student aid programs. These programs are based on financial need, not academic record. But you must make good progress in your program to keep most aid.
- Learning more about paying for college will help you reach your personal finance goals. Find out more about the FAFSA.
- Navy Federal Credit Union has lots of tools, services and experts available to help you understand the options available to help pay for college. Find out more about saving for college, and reach out to Navy Federal Credit Union for more info on student loans.
This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.