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What is the FAFSA? | ZDNet

ByElla E. Kidwell

Apr 7, 2022

If you’re going back to school and looking for financial aid, you may have heard of the importance of completing the FAFSA. But what is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the form students complete to determine their eligibility for financial aid.

Every post-secondary school in the United States requires students seeking financial aid to complete the FAFSA. This may enable you to receive scholarships, subsidized loans, grants and other financial aid. It is even a requirement for some merit-based scholarships. In other words, it’s worth your time.

Completing the FAFSA requires looping and gathering financial and citizenship information. Read on to learn more about the material you need to complete the FAFSA, the resources it can help you access, and when to hand it in.

When is the deadline to complete the FAFSA?

The federal government deadline for submitting the FAFSA is June 30. However, there are benefits to submitting well in advance.

It helps to submit the FAFSA early because schools and states receive limited federal funding, which they allocate on a first-come, first-served basis. If you submit the FAFSA just before the deadline, you may miss out on financial aid you may have received.

Additionally, many states have state-specific FAFSA deadlines.

What do I need to complete the FAFSA?

To complete your FAFSA form, you must provide the government with your basic financial information and citizenship status.

If you are a student dependent, you will also need your parent or guardian’s financial information and social security number. Be prepared to share your parent(s):

  • Social Security number
  • Driving license or government-issued ID
  • Foreigner registration number if you are not a US citizen
  • Federal tax information or tax returns: Generally, IRS W-2 tax return form
  • Records of untaxed income: This includes sources of income such as interest income or child support
  • bank account information: Your cash, checking and savings balances
  • Other investments outside your home

Why should I complete the FAFSA?

You must complete the FAFSA to become eligible for grants and scholarships, as well as other opportunities such as work-study and subsidized loans.

Regardless of your income level, completing the form can expand your options for accessing help to pay for your education.

Below, we explore the programs you may qualify for after completing the FAFSA.

Federal Pell Grant

You must apply annually to the FAFSA to receive a Federal Pell Grant, a federal non-repayable grant. Pell grants are awarded based on need, which the FAFSA helps determine.

The amount of Pell Grant you will receive depends on:

  • Whether you are a full-time or part-time student
  • Cost of Attending Your College
  • Whether you are enrolled for a full academic year
  • Your expected family contribution

To remain eligible, you must meet your school’s “Satisfactory Academic Progress” standards for graduation. You may be required to maintain a minimum GPA and take a minimum credit load each semester.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

FSEOG are non-refundable grants suitable for students with exceptional financial need. Complete the FAFSA to determine your level of need. Financial awards range from $100 to $4,000 per year, distributed by your school’s financial aid office.

Schools may have limited funds or may not offer FSEOG, so check that your college offers this grant and remember to apply early.

Direct Subsidized Federal Loan

Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are federal loans available to undergraduate students in need of financial assistance. The federal government helps pay your interest. Completing the FAFSA form allows your school to determine your level of financial need and eligibility.

The government pays the interest on your loan:

  • while you are at school
  • For six months after graduation
  • During loan deferral periods

As of 2022, the interest rate on direct subsidized loans is 3.73% for undergraduate students and 5.28% for graduate students.

Unsubsidized Direct Federal Loan

A direct unsubsidized federal loan allows undergraduate, graduate and professional students to pay for their college education at a fixed interest rate without demonstrating financial need. Unlike a federally subsidized loan, you pay all interest on an unsubsidized loan.

Schools determine how much you can borrow based on the amount of other financial aid you receive and tuition. You must still complete the FAFSA to receive an unsubsidized federal loan offer from your school.

From 2022, the interest rates for direct unsubsidized loans are 3.73% for undergraduates and 5.28% for graduates and professional students.

The Federal Work-Study Program

The federal work-study program allows part-time and full-time undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to pay for their college education by working part-time.

Generally, your work-study program is linked to civic service or your major. Some schools have agreements with private companies to hire work-study students.

Undergraduate work-study students are paid hourly, while graduate and professional students can be salaried or hourly employees.


Scholarships are non-refundable financial aid grants for students offered by schools, civic groups, non-profit organizations and others. Although most scholarships are based on merit or identity rather than need, you generally need to complete the FAFSA to determine your eligibility.

Scholarships are usually conditional, requiring you to maintain certain standards of academic performance and conduct to continue receiving money.

Regardless of your identity, major, or future career path, there is likely a scholarship for you. It’s just a matter of finding it. Start by exploring ZDNet’s scholarship roundups.

Discover the scholarships

Teacher Education Access Grants for College and Higher Education (TEACH)

TEACH grants are federal grants provided on the condition that you fulfill a teaching service obligation of four to eight years, usually in a low-income area.

Qualifying for TEACH grants requires completing the FAFSA to determine financial need. Annual rewards cap at $4,000.

The program is available to undergraduate and graduate teaching students, as well as postgraduate students attending schools that do not offer undergraduate teaching degrees.

If you do not fulfill your service obligation after graduation, your scholarship is converted into a direct unsubsidized loan.

In conclusion

Completing the FAFSA allows you to access financial aid options such as grants, scholarships, and subsidized loans.

Even if you don’t think you or your child are eligible for financial assistance, fill out the form anyway. You never know what unexpected help you might be entitled to.