Every student attending college in the United States must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This relatively straightforward application helps schools determine your financial need and match you with available federal grants and loans. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, the FAFSA gives college students access to important financial assistance that without, many students would not be able to afford higher education. More than two-thirds of college students enrolled full-time receive some kind of federal aid.

Overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, the FAFSA gives college students access to important financial assistance that without, many students would not be able to afford higher education.

You must complete a new FAFSA to receive aid or funding for each year you plan to enroll in classes. In addition to matching you with potential federal aid, many states and colleges use this application information to determine students’ eligibility for state and school-based aid, including grants, scholarships, and tuition discounts. Filing a FAFSA is a crucial step for any student. If you find yourself wondering “what is a FAFSA,” use this guide to learn more about the application and how you can use it to help fund your social work program.

The FAFSA for Social Work Students

No matter where you decide to pursue your social work degree, many different forms of financial aid exist to help you cover expenses such as tuition, fees, and textbooks. Some forms of aid, such as federal loans, are generalized. Students may also explore need-based grants, work-study programs, and social work-specific aid. Filing your FAFSA helps you determine your eligibility and connect you with these important funding opportunities.

FAFSA Funding

The FAFSA connects you with many different types of funding and aid opportunities.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Education provides around 13 million students with more than $120 billion in aid. The FAFSA connects you with many different types of funding and aid opportunities. Many students receive aid in the form of loans, grants, and work-study programs. Loans must eventually be repaid, and may be subsidized or unsubsidized. This designates whether the loans begin accruing interest when they disperse or upon your graduation. Grants do not generally need to be repaid. However, some circumstances may require you to repay them, such as leaving a program early, or if you no longer meet the eligibility requirements for the specific grant you received. Work-study programs allow you to work to earn money to pay for school, often right on your school’s campus. These programs work around your class schedule so you can take the classes you need. You must use the money earned from these programs for educational purposes, such as tuition, fees, textbooks, and your living costs. As a social work student, you may even have the opportunity to get placed in a work-study job directly related to your field.

Every year, you must submit a new FAFSA. Your total aid eligibility and need represent calculations based on your income or your family’s income, the cost of the school you plan to attend, and other need-based factors. Your expected family contribution represents the amount you may need to contribute towards paying for school.

FAFSA Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for aid through filing your FAFSA, you must demonstrate a few simple requirements. You must be eligible to enroll in college or a vocational school, which means you must have earned your high school diploma or GED. You must be accepted into and enroll in a degree or certificate program. Males must have registered for Selective Service. You must have a valid Social Security number and citizenship or an eligible non-citizen resident status. Finally, you must stay in good academic standing at your institution. These requirements allow for some special exceptions on a case-by-case basis, so speak to your school’s financial aid office to learn more.

How to Complete the FAFSA

When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

Each year, the FAFSA becomes available on October 1, and generally stays open through mid-June. Some states and some specific schools have deadlines for filing your FAFSA that may come soon after the filing period opens. Additionally, some states and schools award aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you file, the better your chances are of earning more funding. However, you may wish to consider filing when you can demonstrate the most need based on you or your family’s assets.

What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?

Before starting your FAFSA, gather all the important documents you’ll need to complete the form. Make sure you have easy and quick access to your Social Security or Alien Registration number, your driver’s license number, and your list of potential schools. Gather all your tax records from an earlier year, including records of taxed income and records or assets. If you plan to file as a dependent, make sure you have all of this information from your parents, as well. Then, log on and create your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, which allows you to access the FAFSA online application and can act as your legal, digital signature. This is necessary if you plan on filing online. It also allows you to track your application.

Filling Out Your FAFSA

You can complete and file your FAFSA in a few different formats. Choose the one that best suits your comfort level, but take into consideration the processing timeline if you choose to submit it through the mail. The FAFSA is readily available online through the Federal Student Aid website. To file online, you’ll need to create your FSA ID to log on. You can then use this ID to log on and complete future applications each year. You can also opt to complete a paper application, which you can request directly from the Department of Education, or fill out a PDF version of the application. Both of these options require you to print and mail the application, which may result in a longer processing time than when you file digitally.

Be prepared with the information you’ll need to complete the form. The application requires information about your finances, your standing as a student, your parents’ information if you file as a dependent, and your household information. You also must sign some certifying statements, which essentially ask you to agree that you will provide accurate and required information in your application.

Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA

  • Apply Online

    You can easily and quickly file your FAFSA online through the Department of Education’s online portal. You can then log back in to check the status of your application and reapply more easily in subsequent years.

  • Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

    While filing online, you can use this tool to easily pull your tax information from the IRS and import it right into your FAFSA. This saves you time and ensures your information is accurate.

  • List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order

    The FAFSA website lists some guidelines that certain states may want you to comply with while listing the schools on your application. Check the website to ensure you list your schools in the correct order if required by your state.

  • Complete Every Field of the Form

    The online form may alert you if you miss a field on the form, but the paper copy will not. On either application, make sure you review your completed form carefully and assure you have completed every field to avoid any processing delays.

  • Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances

    If you wish to express a special circumstance, you can include a letter with your application that explains these circumstances and how they affect your financial need.

Submitting the FAFSA

How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?

Once you have filled out your FAFSA, all you must do is submit it. If you completed your application online, you’ll have a few options for signing and submitting. You FSA ID acts as your legal electronic signature; however, you may also print a signature page and mail it separately from the digital application. Once you receive a confirmation page, save it for your records.

Student Aid Report

Once you’ve filed, you’ll receive your Student Aid Report. This document contains your eligibility and need information, as well as information you listed in the application itself. You’ll receive this through email if you provided an email address. The schools you listed in your application will also have access to this within a few days after you file. Check this report for any errors and make any necessary corrections in your FAFSA. Keep this information in your records. If your report indicates you’ve been selected for verification, you may need to provide more information before receiving a full report.

How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?

FAFSA for social work students is dispersed the same way as for students in every other major. You will generally be prompted by your school to accept any offered aid through your school’s financial aid office. You do not have to accept any and all aid offered to you; you can accept partial amounts or decline unnecessary aid. Some forms of aid may arrive sooner than others. Generally, scholarships are paid directly to your school, but otherwise, most aid arrives and disperses at the same time.