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FAFSA Basics

Important note (updated June 2024):

The FAFSA has undergone some changes this year. The 2024-25 FAFSA is designed to be simpler, and a new aid formula means more students will qualify for federal grants. The revisions have caused some delays and confusion for students and families, but it is not too late to file your FAFSA! If you haven’t made plans for the 2024-25 school year, we would love to help you explore your options, apply to college, and/or file your FAFSA.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form used to apply for federal student aid and other types of financial aid. Colleges and the federal government use it to figure out how much you and your family can pay for college. The government uses it to determine your eligibility for grants, work-study programs, and loans. Colleges use the FAFSA to determine if you’re eligible for their own aid. And private scholarships are often awarded using the FAFSA. If you don’t file, you may not be eligible for school aid or federal aid.

When do I file?

You need to file a FAFSA when you first apply to college and each year that you’re in college. Colleges have their own deadlines for receiving the FAFSA and making financial aid decisions, so make sure you keep track. Deadlines can change depending on how you apply (early decision, early action, or regular or rolling admission). As a general rule of thumb, the earlier you submit the FAFSA, the better. This will help ensure you don’t miss out on any available aid. However, you can still file the FAFSA for the 2024-25 school year. Keep track of deadlines with a chart like the one below:

Financial Aid Tracker

CollegeFAFSA deadlineCSS Profile® required?CSS Profile® deadline

Why should I file?

The FAFSA opens doors to several types of federal aid, including need-based grants, federal loans, and work-study opportunities.

  • Filing the FAFSA gives you access to Pell Grants. The Pell Grant is free federal aid offered to students. Grants for this school year ranged from $750 to $7,395. Grant amounts for the 2024-25 FAFSA have not been released. Grants are based on household income and other tax information. Pell grants do not need to be repaid. You can find out if you are eligible for a Pell Grant by completing the FAFSA. You cannot receive a Pell Grant unless you submit a FAFSA application.
  • Filing the FAFSA gives you access to work-study. Federal work-study is a student aid program where students can work part-time at their college to help pay their bills.
  • Filing the FAFSA gives you access to federal student loans. These loans typically have better rates and options than private loans. Students who qualify can receive subsidized loans, meaning the government pays the interest while you’re in college. Visit studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types for more information about federal financial aid programs.
  • Filing the FAFSA gives you access to other financial aid. Many colleges use the FAFSA to award their own need-based aid.
  • Filing the FAFSA helps fulfill NH high school graduation requirements. Starting in 2023-24, students in NH high schools must complete the FAFSA (or opt out via a waiver) in order to graduate.

Where do I file?

File your FAFSA online at studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa. If you get stuck or have questions, read on for more helpful information.

Creating a Studentaid.gov Account

What is it?

Your studentaid.gov account is the username and password you’ll use to confirm your identity before completing the FAFSA and electronically sign your federal student documents.

How do I get one?

Create your account at studentaid.gov. Once you have your account set up, you can start the FAFSA, save your progress, and log in and out.

Tips for Your Studentaid.gov Account

  • Your studentaid.gov must be verified before you can complete your FAFSA. This process can take 3-5 days.
  • Students and “contributors” must each create their own studentaid.gov account. A contributor is anyone who has to include personal and financial information on the FAFSA, generally your parents (see chart below).
  • Students and their contributors cannot use the same email address or cell phone number to set up their studentaid.gov accounts.
  • Use your personal email: Don’t use your high school email address. Once you graduate, that account will be deactivated, and you won’t able to access it. The email address you use in the student information section of the FAFSA is where you’ll get all FAFSA-related information.
  • Use your Social Security card: Be sure to enter your name and Social Security number exactly as they appear on your Social Security card. The same is true for your contributors. Don’t use nicknames or incomplete names.
  • Keep your email and phone handy: You’ll need to verify your email address and cell phone number while you create a studentaid.gov account.
  • Keep track of your account information: Keep your usernames and passwords in a safe place. You’ll need them each time you access your FAFSA or the federal aid website.
  • Student Aid Account FAQs: Review our Studentaid.gov Accounts Flyer for Frequently Asked Questions about Student Aid Accounts.

How to Create Your Studentaid.gov Account

School Counselors: Check out our FAFSA Toolkit

Our toolkit is designed to provide everything you need to help students submit their FAFSA, unlock the potential for financial aid, and fulfill the NH state graduation requirement. Granite Edvance FAFSA Toolkit

Using Tax Information

You’ll need to enter tax information as you fill out the FAFSA.

Use the correct tax information

This chart shows which tax form should be used when filing the FAFSA form. It’s based on the academic year you’ll be attending college.

High school class When you're attending college (school year)When you can submit FAFSAWhich year's tax income & info is required
Class of 2024 July 1, 2024 – June 30, 2025Beginning December 20232022
Class of 2025July 1, 2025 – June 30, 2025Beginning October 20242023

Personal Circumstances & the FAFSA

Your family situation has a big impact on your FAFSA and financial aid eligibility. You’ll need to figure out if you’re considered a dependent or independent student, and who is considered a contributor on the FAFSA.

Am I dependent or independent?

If you’re a dependent student, the FAFSA expects you to receive some amount of help paying for college from your family. Dependent students need to report their parents’ finances on the FAFSA. Most students going to college right after high school are considered dependent students. If you’re an independent student, you’ll only include your own financial information on the FAFSA. You’re considered an independent student on the FAFSA if you’re at least one of the following:

  • At least 24 years old
  • A graduate or professional student
  • Married
  • A parent or guardian of at least one dependent child, and provide at least half their support
  • An active-duty military service member or veteran
  • An orphan or ward of the court
  • An emancipated minor, or
  • Experiencing homelessness or are at risk
  • In foster care at any point after the age of 13
  • In a legal guardianship

To learn more about independent student status, visit studentaid.gov/dependency.

Which parent(s) should I include on the FAFSA?

If you’re filling out the FAFSA as a dependent student, the parent — now known as the “contributor” — is your legal parent (biological or adoptive) and stepparent. Even if you live with someone else, they don’t count as your parent unless they have legally adopted you. Keep in mind that providing your parents’ financial information doesn’t obligate them to pay for college. But their finances will be used to determine your eligibility for aid.

Use the following chart to determine which parent(s) you include on the FAFSA.

If… Then
Your parents are married to each other and filed their taxes jointly Only one parent needs a studentaid.gov account
If your parents are married to each other but filing their taxes separatelyBoth parents need a studentaid.gov account
Your parents are divorced or separated The parent who has provided more financial support during the last 12 months is considered the FAFSA parent and will need a studentaid.gov account. *note: if your FAFSA parent is remarried, the FAFSA will take the new spouse’s income into account, but if they file jointly, they will need just one studentaid.gov account.
Your biological parents aren’t married but live together Both parents will need a studentaid.gov. Since unmarried parents can’t file taxes jointly, you’ll need to combine their adjusted gross income and tax liabilities, and list them together on the FAFSA.

Tip:

You can’t declare yourself “independent” unless you meet the federal guidelines. Even if you don’t live with your parents or they don’t claim you on their taxes, you’re still a dependent student if you don’t meet the guidelines.

Special Circumstances

A life event or huge expense can derail your ability to pay for college. Loss of a job, divorce, a death in the family, or a giant medical bill are just a few possible scenarios. But unfortunately, there’s nowhere to include this information on the FAFSA.

You can, however, ask schools to consider your special circumstances. Check the financial aid webpage for each school you’re applying to and look for a special circumstances form and more detailed instructions. Fill out this form, or send a letter to the financial aid office. Be as detailed as possible, including dollar amounts for the items you’re detailing. If your school requires the CSS Profile (see below for details), the form includes a box to enter special circumstances.

Verification

Verification is a process that colleges use to identify and correct any issues on a student’s FAFSA. Think of it like quality control. About 30% of students are chosen randomly for verification. In other cases a FAFSA may need to be double-checked for accuracy. And some schools verify all students’ FAFSA forms. If it happens, don’t assume you’re being accused of doing something wrong! All you need to do is provide the information your school asks for, meet the deadline, and keep an eye on your email, or you may not qualify for any aid. You’ve got this! Check studentaid.gov for more on verification.

  • If you’re asked to verify household/family information, complete the Dependency Verification worksheet the school will send you. Be sure to provide any other documentation they ask for. Ask the financial aid office to clarify what they want and how to send it (upload to a site, emailed, etc.)

Tip

If you’ve applied to more than one college, you may be asked to submit verification forms to each one. Watch your email – schools may request more information from you and your family.

Student Aid Index (SAI)

What is it?

Your Student Aid Index (SAI) is the number that is calculated from your FAFSA. It has replaced the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). Colleges use your SAI to decide how much financial aid you qualify for. When you file your FAFSA, you’ll receive your SAI on the confirmation page. Since you need to complete the FAFSA every year, you’ll also receive an updated SAI each year.

Your SAI is not the amount of financial aid you’ll receive, or the amount you’ll pay for college. Colleges subtract your SAI from the total cost of attending school to determine how much aid you’re eligible for.

How does SAI affect federal aid?

The federal government changed the formula they use to determine federal financial aid starting in the 2023-2024 school year. SAI replaced “Expected Family Contribution (EFC).” SAI is used to decide if you qualify for all types of federal student aid, including federal loans and work-study programs. The lower your SAI, the more need-based aid you may qualify to receive.

Calculating Need-Based Aid

Schools will use this formula to decide if you have financial need:

Cost of Attendance (COA) – Student Aid Index (SAI) = Financial Need

The amount of federal aid you’re offered can’t be greater than the cost of attendance. In other words, you can’t make a profit off of federal aid!

Cost of Attendance (COA)

The cost of attendance (COA) is the cost to attend a school for one year. The COA includes both your direct costs and indirect costs.

Direct costs are due directly to the college, and include:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Room and board

Indirect costs are expenses that you need to cover on top of direct college expense, such as:

  • Books and supplies
  • Travel expenses
  • Lab fees
  • Health insurance (if you’re not insured through a parent)
  • Study abroad fees
  • Personal expenses

Looking for more info on financial aid?

Read all about financial aid in our comprehensive Financial Aid Insider

Citizenship Status

Are you wondering how your citizenship status will affect your FAFSA? If you or your parents are undocumented or are not U.S. citizens, you may not be eligible for some aid. But your legal status doesn’t have to stop you from going to college. Check out our Address Obstacles page for more on applying to college.

1. I’m an undocumented or DACA student. Am I eligible for federal student aid? No. Undocumented students, including DACA students, are not eligible for federal student aid. However, you may qualify for aid from your college. And there are many private scholarships designed for undocumented students.

2. Do I need a Social Security Number (SSN) to complete the FAFSA? No. A student with an alien registration may be considered an eligible noncitizen and can use that number to apply for a studentaid.gov account.

3. Does my parents’ citizenship status affect my eligibility for federal student aid? No. Your parents’ citizenship status has no effect on your eligibility for federal student aid. In fact, the FAFSA doesn’t ask about your parents’ status.

4. Do my parents need SSNs in order for me to complete the FAFSA? No. Since your parents’ citizenship doesn’t affect your ability to complete the FAFSA form, they don’t need SSNs. If your parents don’t have SSNs, they must enter 000-00-0000 when the FAFSA form asks for their SSNs. If your parents don’t have SSNs, they won’t be able to create studentaid.gov accounts. This means they won’t be able to sign your FAFSA form electronically. They will need to sign and mail a paper FAFSA form. *Note: the Department of Education is creating a process for parents to create a studentaid.gov account even if they do not have an SSN, alien registration number, or EIN (tax ID). However, this process will not be available until later in 2024.

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is another online financial aid form. Roughly 240 colleges and scholarship programs require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The CSS Profile helps colleges gather more information to help them award grants and scholarships.
  • Unlike the FAFSA , the CSS Profile is not free. It costs $25 to register and send results to one school, and $16 for each additional school. If you meet certain criteria, your fees might be waived.
  • See the schools that require the CSS Profile and register for it at cssprofile.collegeboard.org

Are you stuck on the FAFSA?

Have questions, or need a second set of eyes? That’s what we’re here for! Get in touch with Granite Edvance, and we’ll figure it out together.

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