The first mistake many students and families make is assuming they can't afford college. Don't be discouraged by the sticker price of college until you know how much financial aid may be available to you. Financial aid can significantly reduce the cost of college, but it can be tricky to estimate how much student aid you will get. Two factors are generally used to determine who gets student aid and how much they get: need and merit.
- "Merit-based" aid is given to students who do something exceptionally well (like music, athletics, or academics) or to students who plan to have a career in an area that will benefit the community or the country (like teaching, science, math, and engineering).
- "Need-based" aid is given to students who demonstrate a lack of financial resources to pay for college.
Some student aid programs use a combination of need and merit to determine eligibility.
It all starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). With this one application, you can apply for financial aid at multiple colleges and from multiple funding sources (federal, state, institutional and private providers of assistance). Mistakes can delay your application, potentially limiting the amount of aid you are eligible to receive. As you prepare to fill out your FAFSA, keep this list of FAFSA Tips and Common Mistakes To Avoid handy.
Completing Your FAFSA
You will need to fill out the FAFSA once for each academic year that you will attend school. The farther in advance you do it, the better!
2022-2023 Academic Year
The FAFSA for next academic year (July 1, 2022–June 30, 2023) becomes available online on October 1, 2021. To begin your application, go to https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa.
- Students and parents can either complete and submit the 2022–2023 FAFSA on a computer via the website above, or on a phone or tablet by using the Department of Education's myStudentAid mobile app.
- Instead of waiting until you and/or your parents have completed your tax returns for the 2021 year, which likely won't be finalized until Spring 2022, you will complete the 2022–23 FAFSA using financial and tax information from 2020.
You may also want to view or/print off this FAFSA checklist, which tells you what information and forms you need to have on-hand to help you fill out the FAFSA.
- The FSA ID, made up of a username and password, is used to confirm your identity when you access your financial aid information and electronically sign your federal student aid documents. While you are not required to have an FSA ID to complete and submit a FAFSA on the Web application, it is the fastest way to sign your application and have it processed. It is also the only way to access or correct your information online, or to pre-fill a FAFSA on the Web application with information from your previous year’s FAFSA. If you don't already have an FSA ID, you can create one now.
- Deadlines for state financial aid programs — complete your FAFSA before this date to get priority consideration for financial aid from your state.