Why should you complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) even when you know you won’t qualify for need-based aid? You’ve already filled out the Common App, applications for colleges, applications for scholarships, applications for housing, and on and on…

So why spend time setting up IDs, gathering tax and financial documents, and answering many more questions?

1.   Never Assume

Depending on specific schools, your eligibility for financial aid may be more than you realize, especially if your family has multiple children in college. Every school has a different policy regarding the Student Aid Index (SAI) (previously the EFC or Expected Family Contribution) and/or the CSS Profile (not required by all schools) to calculate financial need. NONE of these policies are published. Your results may surprise you. Make sure you’re not leaving FREE money behind!

2.   Some States Require FAFSA Completion to Graduate High School

Mandatory FAFSA policies exist in some states because FAFSA completion is the strongest predictor of college enrollment. Students are more likely to attend if they have access to more financial resources. In 2024, 15 states including Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia (temporarily suspended this year) are mandatory FAFSA states. Some of these states have options for non-college-bound students. Maryland obligates schools to encourage and assist as many students as possible in completing the FAFSA. At least seven other states are considering a mandatory FAFSA policy.

3.   Merit Scholarship Programs May Require the FAFSA

Furthermore, many merit aid programs request completion of the FAFSA as part of their application process.

4.   Federal Work-Study Requires the FAFSA

Unlike need or merit-based awards, federal work-study programs provide jobs for students, on and/or off-campus. The FAFSA is required for these programs which are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

5.   Federal Student Loans Require the FAFSA

All three types of federal loans (Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, and Direct PLUS loans) are only available to those who’ve completed the FAFSA. These loans usually have lower initial fees and lower interest rates than private loans. You may also be eligible for payment pauses or forgiveness programs not available with private loans.

6.   Covid-19 Emergency Grants Require the FAFSA

Many colleges provide emergency grants to cover college costs related to coronavirus disruptions, including housing, food, and health care.

7.   Covid-19 Stimulus Checks May Require the FAFSA

Individual colleges determine how to distribute their share of the American Rescue Plan and many start with FAFSA applications. Dependent students’ checks would be sent to eligible parents/guardians. You’ll want to be eligible for future stimulus checks if they occur.

Whether you think you have financial need or not, filing a FAFSA is the single most important thing you can do to get money for college. With more than $150 billion in college grants, work-study funds, and federal student loans, plus some state-based aid on the table, it’s worth your time to complete one more application.

Because circumstances change at your house, your school, and at the federal level, file the FAFSA every year you are in college. 

The easiest and fastest way to file the FAFSA is online. Expect your application to be processed within 3-5 days. Don’t delay, because some FAFSA-required awards are first-come, first-served. Consequently, the best time to file your FAFSA is in October beginning senior year of high school; the next best time is November.

Learn more:
Skipping the FAFSA Costs Families Money
Avoid These FAFSA Mistakes
Your Guide to the FAFSA Application