Do you have to complete the FAFSA every year?
High school students attending college are the most likely targets to be concerned about completing the free federal student aid application, or FAFSA. But the message is just as important to returning students.
Students must submit to the FAFSA to access federal financial aid – federal grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans – as well as certain state and institutional aid each year they are in school. Yet returning students aren’t achieving the same rate of completion as their freshman counterparts, colleges say.
The University of Texas at Austin financial aid office, for example, has noticed “a significant delay” in the return of students who submit their files year after year, according to Diane Todd Sprague, executive director of the office.
If you are relying on financial aid to pay for your college education, you still need to submit the form. Here’s why you should complete the FAFSA every year.
You could receive more financial aid than last year
Eligibility for financial assistance is adjusted from year to year. If your family has experienced changes in their financial situation – perhaps one of your parents has lost a job or a sibling has started college – you may be eligible for more financial aid.
“Eligibility for financial assistance is adjusted from year to year.“
When you file a FAFSA, you can use the tax information from the previous year or the 2019 information for the 2021-22 form. Information from the previous year is used so that students can receive an estimate of aid eligibility without waiting for tax time to apply. If your situation has changed significantly in the two years since a previous tax return, don’t wait to submit the FAFSA. Once your last returns are saved, you can go back and update your tax information.
You could get free money
Organizations that provide free college funding use the FAFSA to decide if you qualify. Pell Grants are a good example; you don’t have to pay them back like you do with student loans. But they’re first come, first served – so apply as soon as you can after exiting the FAFSA on October 1 for your best luck in qualifying.
You may also need to file the FAFSA to qualify for scholarships through your university. “Many scholarship agreements now state that you must apply after the first year,” says Dennis Correll, former associate dean for enrollment management at Penn State’s Pennsylvania College of Technology.
“You may also need to file with the FAFSA to be eligible for scholarships through your college.“
You may need a new federal student loan
When grants, scholarships, savings, and work-study don’t cover the full cost of tuition, student loans can fill the gap. If you took out a federal student loan last year, you’ll probably need another one this year. Completing the FAFSA is the only way to get federal loans, which offer more protections and generally lower interest rates than private student loans. It is best to maximize federal assistance before turning to private student loans, which are obtained through banks and online lenders and do not require the FAFSA.
How to file the FAFSA
Fill out the FAFSA on the Federal Student Aid website. If you filed last year, log into the FAFSA website with your FSA ID and click the FAFSA renew button. You will be directed to a partially pre-filled form and be able to provide new financial information.