2024 FAFSA Guide: Questions, Tips, and Resources

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Looking for some tips for navigating FAFSA?  Figuring out how to pay for school is hard enough, and a federal form like FAFSA can be intimidating.  Luckily, we’ve got all the information you need to make applying for federal student loans a piece of cake. Here’s what you need to know about FAFSA.

The Basics

FAFSA stands for the Federal Application for Student Aid.  It was created in 1992 as a way to help all eligible students apply for available government funding and determine each student’s level of financial need.

The Funding

FAFSA helps the government determine who is eligible for grants, loans, or work-study.  Eligibility is based on financial need.

Grants are essentially scholarships from the federal government; they don’t have to be repaid unless you drop out of school or receive other scholarships that make the Federal Grant unnecessary.  Grant eligibility is based on a student’s financial need.

Loans from the federal government come in two forms: subsidized and unsubsidized.  The US Department of Education pays the interest on subsidized loans while you’re enrolled in school and for six months afterward.  That means they’re essentially interest-free until you get a job and start earning money.  However, subsidized loans aren’t offered to everyone unconditionally; like grants, subsidized loans are offered in greater amounts to those with higher financial need. Unsubsidized loans are offered to everyone regardless of financial needs.  However, interest will begin occurring immediately and will continue accruing until the loan is paid off.

Work-study is another way the US federal government offers financial support to students who need it. Work-study provides funds to colleges to hire students for part-time, on-campus jobs.  Your FAFSA results will let you know how much money you’re eligible to earn through work-study: you can’t earn more than your eligibility amount each year.

The Criteria

The federal government uses a variety of information to assess financial need, including cost of attendance at the school in question, tax records, assets, and income statements.  

The FAFSA determines the expected family contribution (EFC) of each student using one of three formulas: one for dependent students, one for independent students without dependents of their own, and one for independent students with dependents of their own.  

Independent students do not have to report the income or assets of their parents for financial need determinations.  To be considered an independent student, an applicant must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Be 24 years of age or older
  • Be married or legally separated
  • Be enrolled in graduate school (master’s or doctoral program)
  • Be active duty or reserve in the military or National Guard, or be a veteran
  • Have children
  • Be an orphan or foster child
  • Be emancipated or in a legal guardianship
  • Be homeless, a runaway, in transitional housing or an unaccompanied youth

The Process

In 1997, the FAFSA moved online as an interactive application.  That means that the questions change based on the answers you give.  The full application is about 180 questions and can be accessed online at the FAFSA website.   If you are a dependent student, you’ll have to answer more questions than independent students.

FAFSA Questions

Before you sit down to complete the 2022-2023 FAFSA, you’ll want to have all the applicable information on hand.  You might need to ask your parents for important information, such as their previous year’s tax return or their social security number.

The following questions are asked on the Federal Application for Student Aid:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Birthdate
  • Social Security Number
  • Phone Number
  • Driver’s License State and Number
  • Email Address
  • Citizenship or Immigration Status
  • Marital Status
  • Month/year married, separated, divorced, or widowed
  • State of Legal Residence
  • Gender
  • Selective Service
  • Prior Drug Convictions
  • Parent’s Level of Education
  • High School Completion Status
  • High School Name, City, and State
  • Past Degrees
  • Current College Grade Level
  • Work-Study Interest
  • Recent Tax Return Info
  • Spouse’s Recent Tax Return Info
  • Total Assets, Investments, and Holdings
  • Other Income and Expenses (i.e. child support, combat pay, interest)

The following questions on the FAFSA are used to determine whether a student will need to share their parent’s income to determine eligibility:

  • Age
  • Marital Status 
  • Graduate school Enrollment Status
  • Active Duty Status
  • Veteran Status
  • Children/Dependents
  • Emancipation/Guardianship/Etc status
  • Homelessness/Unaccompanied Minor/Etc status

If a student is not determined to be independent, they will need to share the following information:

  • Marital Status of Parents
  • Month/year Parents were married, separated, divorced, or widowed
  • Parents’ Names
  • Parents’ Addresses
  • Parents’ Dates of Birth
  • Parents’ Social Security Numbers
  • Parents’ Email Addresses
  • Parents’ State of Legal Residence
  • Parents’ Household Size
  • Parents’ Benefits (Food Stamps, TANF, Medicaid, etc)
  • Parents’ Dislocated Worker Status
  • Parent’s Most Recent Tax Return Information
  • Parents’ Total Assets, Holdings, Net Worth, etc
  • Applicant’s Household Size
  • Applicant’s Benefits (Food Stamps, TANF, Medicaid, etc)
  • Dislocated Worker Status
  • Federal School Code (can be found on the school’s website)
  • Housing Plans for College
  • Student/Parent Signature
  • Information of anyone who helped prepare FAFSA

Keep this FAFSA Guide handy and use it to prepare for FAFSA Questions.  By collecting the information in advance, you can expedite the process and make getting federal financial aid as quick and easy as possible.

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