October 4, 2022

What You Need to Know about the FAFSA

Financial aid is a great way to cover college expenses. Yet, finding student aid and applying for it can seem like a daunting task for students and parents. Still, it's easier and less painful than it sounds, and what the aid covers might surprise you.

College-bound students and their parents need to know the answers to common questions before applying for aid with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). So, where do you begin, and how much can you expect to get? We researched the topic to bring you these answers and more to prepare you for your college career.

FAFSA: What It Is and Who Should Apply

Though anyone can apply for FAFSA, not everyone is eligible for federal student aid. You'll need to meet several qualifications, but here are the most common.

  • You must provide proof that you're a U.S. citizen or eligible, including a social security number or similar documentation.
  • You'll also need to provide financial information to show you need federal funds to cover college costs.
  • Federal student aid requires you to attend school at least half-time in an eligible degree program.
  • Your grades matter for federal student aid. You must maintain satisfactory progress, which usually means you earn at least a C or better in all classes. Make sure you set aside enough time to study to maintain good grades.

How to Complete the FAFSA

You can complete the FAFSA online in about 30 minutes. Once you apply, it can take a few weeks before you receive a response. Your first response will be a Student Aid Report, also known as the SAR. Please review the information and confirm it's correct. Digitally sign and submit it. Once you have received your college acceptance letter and chosen that school to attend, the school will calculate the amount of aid you need. From there, you’ll receive an award letter.

FAFSA Student Aid Types

There are three kinds of federal student aid you can apply for with FAFSA:

  • Grants
  • Loans
  • Federal Work-Study Programs


Grants are like free money for your education and related expenses; you don't need to repay them. 

Federal Direct Student Loans

Loans are borrowed money with interest, and you must repay them. There are two types of student loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. 

Subsidized student loans do not accrue interest while you attend school at least half-time, usually at least six credit hours per semester. Interest also doesn't accrue while you're under a deferment period with the lender. 

Once you've graduated, classes have ended, or your enrollment drops below half-time for six months, loan repayment begins, and interest accrues.

Unsubsidized student loans will accrue interest when you accept the loan regardless of your enrollment, deferment, or grace period status. 

Student Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs allow you to work on-campus or off-campus for nonprofit organizations performing work related to your program of study. You can work part-time or full-time. However, the school decides how many hours you can work based on several factors.

  • Your financial need
  • Your work-study awards
  • Your class schedules
  • Your academic progress

The school pays you monthly for work performed under your work-study program. You can use funds to cover educational expenses such as tuition, fees, books, supplies, food, housing, transportation, etc.

How Much Student Aid You Might Expect

Your financial need helps determine your eligible amount of federal student aid. Your school receives Pell grant funds and direct student loan funds and deducts the cost of tuition and fees. However, the cost of attendance and how much you or your family are expected to contribute also factor into the equation. 

The school issues you a check or sends a direct deposit for any remaining student aid funds after paying your student bill. If there's an outstanding balance left after your student aid award, you'll receive an invoice from the school notifying you how much you'll need to pay.

Will You Need More Funds for College?

Federal student aid is an excellent way to cover many education costs. However, it doesn't always cover everything. Plan for this by considering supplemental funding sources to cover any gaps in federal student aid. Here are a few ideas to find more funds for college:


If you plan to submit the FAFSA, complete it as early as possible to increase your chances of receiving student aid. However, since FAFSA doesn't always cover all college expenses, have a backup plan. Consider alternative funding sources like the ones mentioned above. Alternative funding will help cover any gaps in student aid and make for a less stressful academic year.