TEACH.org Logo
DONATE

FAFSA 101

Everything You Need to Know About Filling Out the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid

Author: Beneisha Williams

Share this article

A quick start guide to understanding financial aid

You've spent countless hours researching college and teaching programs, looking for one that will best fit your goals. You're dreaming about meeting new people and exploring your classes. Then you get to the not-so-exciting part: cost of your program and the dreaded financial aid applications.  

Don’t let the dollar amounts and paperwork intimidate or discourage you! Below, we’ll discuss key facts about FAFSA that will help simplify the process and help you get the funds you need for your education.

Your questions, answered.

  1. What is FAFSA?

    FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is your gateway to making your program  affordable. The U.S. Department of Education provides millions of dollars in grants and loans for education, so filling out FAFSA lets you find out how much money you’re eligible for. The application requires personal and income information from both you and your parent or legal guardian. You can find the application at fafsa.ed.gov.

  2. Doesn’t financial aid come from my program—not the government?

    This part can be confusing—but here’s the short version. Most schools and programs use the FAFSA to determine the financial aid that you can receive at their school. Basically, they are saving you some time so you don’t have to fill out a different application for financial aid that comes from your school.

    So, you fill out the government form to see if you’re eligible for money from the government and from your school. 

    You can still apply for scholarships, grants, and loans from other organizations or banks. For those, you will probably need a separate application.

     

  3. What is financial aid?

    Financial aid is any funding that helps pay for your college program and additional expenses such as textbooks, room and board, and transportation.

  4. How do I apply for financial aid through FAFSA?

    You’ll need to complete FAFSA’s online form, which you can access here. We’re not going to lie—many people find the form confusing. Stick with it! It’s worth it. 

    Make sure to have the following information handy when you begin:

    • If you’re under 24 years old, you may need your parent or guardian information too. Check to see if you’re considered a “dependent” or “independent” student.
    • Legal names
    • Social security numbers
    • Dates of birth
    • Income information, such as your tax returns, though you may be able to estimate the amount you—or your parents—earn
    • A list of schools or programs you are applying to—up to 10

    Note: Your FAFSA form must be renewed annually. You’ll also need to maintain satisfactory grades in order to keep and remain eligible for financial aid.

  5. What if I need help?

    You don’t have to fill out the FAFSA by yourself. If you get stuck, check out the live chat on the website or call the FAFSA Hotline at 1 (800)-433-3243

    You can also ask guidance counselors, the financial aid office at your school, relatives, or friends who have been through it.

     

  6. Is there a deadline?

    FAFSA becomes available each year on October 1st for the upcoming school year. Each college also has a priority deadline. Check with your college to find out when this is. 

    Meeting the deadlines gives you the best chance of receiving funding, since financial aid is available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

    If you don’t meet your school's deadline, you should still apply. You never know what funding schools will have available.

     

  7. When will I receive my financial aid?

    Once your school has received and reviewed your application, the financial aid office will send you a financial aid award letter. Your offer may include multiple options such as free money (grants or scholarships) and loan options. 

    Once you have decided on and accepted your offer, the school will cover your tuition and then send the  leftover funds to you to cover additional school expenses. 

     

Don't miss out on money for your teaching program!

Each year, thousands of students miss out on financial aid by simply not filling out the application. You don’t want to make this mistake. Remember, no matter how big or small the cost of your education, FAFSA gives you the resources you need.