The United States government sets aside billions of dollars each year to help college students pay for their education. If you are a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen with valid documents, you can apply for this federal aid by completing a form called the FAFSA.

Filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) also has an additional bonus. Your college can use the information you provide to help determine if you are eligible for any of the college’s grants, scholarships, or work study programs. Work study programs allow students to work on campus in various academic departments, the library, etc. Work study is not always the best option for the nontraditional adult student because it often pays minimum wage.

The application process is completely free. You can apply online. Avoid websites that charge you money for filling out the FAFSA. Go to the official FAFSA website. On the home page, click on “Start a New FAFSA” to begin.

Three weeks or so after you have submitted the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). If you made mistakes on the FAFSA, you can make the corrections on the SAR. Note: If you filled out the FAFSA online, your corrections can be made online.

Tips for Filling Out the FAFSA

  1. Read the Eligibility section before you begin. If you’ve defaulted on a previous student loan or had a drug conviction, you might not be eligible to apply.
  2. Read the instructions and look through each page of the FAFSA before you begin.
  3. Gather all the necessary documents, such as your Social Security card and your tax forms from the previous year.
  4. After you fill out the form, do not submit it until you are absolutely sure that all of the information is correct.
  5. To submit the form online, you will need a PIN number. You will apply for it through the FAFSA website. The federal government will then mail your PIN number to you. You will not receive it through e-mail. Put your PIN number in safe place. This is the same PIN number you will use each time you log in to the FAFSA website.
  6. After you have finished filling it out, print a copy of the form for your records.

More Information Sources

Browse the help section of the FAFSA website

Federal Student Aid Information Center
Look online or call 1-800-433-3243

Filling Out Your FAFSA If … 

You Are Incarcerated Or If You Are An Ex-offender

The good news is that the most recent FAFSA (which is necessary to get some grants — more about this on the Grants and Scholarships page changed the wording of a question about drug offenses. The change means that some people no longer have to give information on the FAFSA about their criminal history. The question with the new wording now reads: Have you ever been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (grants, loans, and/or work-study)? You must answer this question. Answer no if:

  • You have never had a conviction for possessing or selling illegal drugs.
  • The conviction was not a state or federal offense.
  • The conviction was before you were 18 years old and you were not tried as an adult.
  • The conviction was removed from your record.
  • The offense that led to your conviction did not happen while you were receiving federal student aid (grants, loans, and/or work-study).

If you have to answer yes to this question, you must use the Drug Conviction Worksheet to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. Even if you have past drug convictions, you still may be eligible. You can find the Drug Conviction questions on page 3 of the FASFA Free Application. It is available in English and Spanish. Even if you are not eligible for federal student aid, go ahead and complete and submit your FAFSA. You may be eligible for state or school financial aid, and some schools use information on the FAFSA to decide that.

If You Are From Another Country
To qualify for federal student aid, you need to have one of the following statuses:

  • permanent resident
  • I-94
  • refugee

In certain circumstances, there are also other statuses that are acceptable. For more information, see: FAFSA Eligibility Help and FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) and Student Aid on the Web .Click on the “Who Gets Aid” tab at the top of the home page. On the next page, move down and click on the link under “Non-U.S. Citizens.” Even if you are not eligible for federal student aid, complete and submit your FAFSA. You may be eligible for state or school financial aid and some schools use the information on FAFSA when they make those decisions.

What’s Next?
Another way to receive financial support is through Grants and Scholarships!