In order to qualify for federal financial aid at any U.S. college, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Important changes to the FAFSA occurred in 2016. Below, you'll find our answers to some of the most common questions about federal financial aid applications.

FAFSA questions

What is the FAFSA ?

The FAFSA is a long, comprehensive application form that you must complete and submit to the government in order to receive federal financial aid . Once you fill it out, the government will share your information with your chosen schools. The form asks for information about your income, the size of your household, and how many of your family members currently attend school. You will need your parent or guardian to help supply a lot of this information. Once all of your numbers have been submitted, the government analyzes the information to determine your expected family contribution, or EFC.

What has changed on the FAFSA?

Two big changes to the FAFSA happened last year:

Earlier submission date

The FAFSA is now released on October 1st, three months earlier than it used to be. This change aligns the FAFSA application schedule with the typical college admission application schedule.

Income reported

Beginning this year, FAFSA applicants report income from an earlier tax year. F or the 2017–2018  FAFSA, report income from tax year 2015. If you are currently in school, you probably already filed your 2017–2018 FAFSA. High school seniors planning to enroll in college in fall 2018 will complete the 2018–2019 FAFSA and report income from tax year 2016. 

This change was intended to simplify the FAFSA process. If you are submitting the 2018–2019 FAFSA, you will be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import tax information electronically from tax forms beginning October 1, 2017.

When should I complete the  FAFSA form?

The government makes the new form available on October 1st of each year. You must complete out a new FAFSA  each year you attend school. Make sure you fill out your new forms online so you can just make updates instead of redoing the entire application.  The schools that you're applying to, or the one you're currently attending, will use your results to put together their financial aid offers for you. You should receive this information by early spring if not sooner.

School YearFAFSA AvailableSubmission PeriodIncome & Tax Year Used
July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018  October 1, 2016 October 1, 2016–June 30, 2018  2015
July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019  October 1, 2017 October 1, 2017–June 30, 2019  2016

When is the FAFSA due?

The 2018–2019 FAFSA was released on October 1, 2017. You may submit the form between October 1, 2017 and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2019. Keep in mind that many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid. The Princeton Review recommends submitting your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 so that you don't miss out on available aid.

How much money will I get?

The amount of aid you receive can be hard to predict. You can get federal funds, federal or state sponsored grants, student loans , or some combination of all three. You can also apply for a work-study program at your school. These are usually part-time campus jobs. The actual amount of money you receive will vary depending on your school, and your financial situation.

What if I don't get enough money?

If you're completing your FAFSA for the first time, you'll want to compare financial aid offers from all the schools where you're accepted, and make the best decision for you and your family. If you're a returning student, schedule a meeting with the office of financial aid right away. Colleges want to retain and graduate their students, so they are often able to work with you to find a solution.

What next?

You need a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) to start your financial aid process. Even if you previously had a Federal Student Aid PIN, you will need a new FSA ID to complete this year's FAFSA (don't worry, you can link your information from your PIN). You can create an FSA ID before you even begin the college application process; visit the Federal Student Aid website to get your FSA ID. 

The Princeton Review recommends submitting your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.

Check out our video on everything you want to know about financial aid:

Plus: Rob Franek talks about the cost of college on Good Morning Dallas: