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Students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to access federal financial aid — grants, scholarships, work-study and federal loans — as well as certain state and institutional aid each year they’re in school. Adjusting to college life and the onslaught of exams can make it easy to forget about filling out the FAFSA.
However, if you rely on financial aid to pay for college, you always need to submit the form.
Here's why you should fill out the FAFSA every year.
You might receive more financial aid than you did last year
Financial aid eligibility is adjusted each year. If your family has experienced changes in financial status, like parental job loss, you might be eligible for more financial aid.
When you file a FAFSA, you can use prior-prior year tax information, or 2021 information for the 2023-24 form. Prior-prior year information is used so students can receive an estimate of aid eligibility without waiting for tax season to apply.
If your circumstances have changed significantly in the two years since a prior-prior tax filing, don’t wait to submit the FAFSA. Once your newest taxes are filed, you can go back and update your tax information.
» MORE: What are the FAFSA requirements?
You might get free money
Organizations that provide college funding you don’t have to pay back typically use the FAFSA to decide if you qualify. For example, the Federal government offers Pell Grants, while your college may grant scholarships. That type of college funding is typically first-come, first-served. Once the FAFSA is available, apply as soon as possible for your best shot at qualifying for free aid.
You might need a new federal student loan
When grants, scholarships, savings and work-study don’t meet the full costs of attending school, student loans can close the gap. If you took out a federal student loan last year, you may need another one this year.
Completing the FAFSA is the only way to get federal loans. These loans offer more protections and typically lower interest rates than private student loans. It’s best to max out federal aid before turning to private student loans, which are obtained through banks and online lenders that don’t require the FAFSA.
How to file the FAFSA
Complete the FAFSA at StudentAid.gov. If you filed last year, log in to the FAFSA website with your FSA ID and click the “Renew My FAFSA Form” button. You’ll be directed to a partially prefilled form and can provide new financial information. You can complete the FAFSA by June 30 of the school year for which you’re filing — June 30, 2024, for the 2023-24 school year. Your school or state typically has much earlier FAFSA deadlines. Find your state deadline on the FAFSA website.
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