Billions of dollars in financial aid is waiting… but you can’t get it unless you apply!
Three-quarters of first-time college freshmen in Iowa receive some form of financial aid. If you want to be one of them, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is where you start. You need this form to qualify for:
- Need-based grants and scholarships, both federal and state
- Federal student loans
Applying for college admission is not the same as applying for financial aid—you’ll need to do both. No matter how many colleges you apply to, you only need to file one FAFSA. You will, however, need to file the FAFSA again for each year you plan to be in college.
Filing the FAFSA & More
Before the FAFSA
You’ll need a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID to complete the FAFSA. You and your and parents (if you are a dependent*) should apply for separate FSA IDs. You can create your FSA ID before you begin the FAFSA at fsaid.ed.gov. Do not use an email address associated with your high school—you might lose access to the account after you graduate. Note: You must create your FSA ID on a laptop or desktop computer, not a mobile device.
Create an FSA ID
Gather the following information for you and your parents*:
- Driver’s license number
- Social Security Number
- Federal income tax returns, W-2 forms and other records of money earned
- Records of untaxed income
- Current bank statements
- Current business and farm records, as well as other savings and investments
- Alien Registration Number (if applicable)
You don’t need to have your tax information in front of you. If you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, it will let you prefill answers to some FAFSA questions by transferring tax data directly from the IRS website.
The average time needed to file the FAFSA is about half an hour. Set aside 30 to 60 minutes to be safe.
*Unless you are an independent student. Not sure? Check here.
Filing the FAFSA
You can file the FAFSA online at FAFSA.gov or request a printed form by calling 1-800-4-FEDAID or by visiting FAFSA.gov. The FAFSA will gather information about your finances, your family’s finances, and your college plans. You can complete the FAFSA for the following school year beginning October 1, using the previous year's tax information. (Example: You can complete the 2023-24 FAFSA beginning October 1, 2022, using 2021's tax information.)
- Enter your legal name exactly as it appears on your Social Security card.
- Enter your address exactly as it appears on your family’s tax returns.
- If available, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer data directly from the IRS website to your FAFSA.
- Enter up to 10 colleges or universities that you are considering. Your information will be shared with campus officials, who will evaluate your eligibility for federal, state and institutional financial aid.
- Sign the FAFSA using your FSA ID for fastest processing.
- Print the confirmation page, which displays the exact date and time the form was received.
Your completed FAFSA should be submitted as soon after October 1 as possible to receive financial aid in the next academic year.
Colleges and universities have priority deadlines as early as January. Deadlines for grants and scholarships funded by the state of Iowa fall as early as March 1. Although you can file after the deadlines, some aid is limited and might no longer be available.
Never Pay to File!
There are no fees to complete or submit the FAFSA.
After the FAFSA
If your FAFSA is selected for verification, don’t panic. Roughly one-third of all FAFSAs are selected for this process, where colleges review student financial aid applications for accuracy. The process must be completed before financial aid can be awarded. Your college’s financial aid office will contact you and inform you of steps you need to take.
Student Aid Report
After you complete your FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education will process the data and compile your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR will be sent to you and to the colleges you listed on your FAFSA. If you provided an email address, you’ll receive an email with instructions to access an online copy of your SAR; otherwise it will be mailed.
Typically, you’ll be able to access your SAR within three to five days if you file your FAFSA electronically (seven to 10 days if you file a paper FAFSA). The SAR contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as well as initial information about your Pell Grant eligibility. Colleges and universities use your EFC to determine your eligibility for federal grants, loans, work-study and other financial aid programs.
Expected Family Contribution
Your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, is the number colleges will use to calculate your eligibility for aid. Variables that determine your EFC include income and net worth for you and your parents, family size, age of older parent, state and federal taxes and number of family members attending college. Your EFC might change from year to year.
Each college or university that you list on your FAFSA and that accepts you will determine your Financial Need: the Cost of Attendance (COA) at that school minus your EFC. While Cost of Attendance varies by school, your EFC will remain the same in a given year (unless an unusual family situation arises) regardless of which college or university you attend. The amount of aid you receive cannot exceed the total Cost of Attendance.
Financial Aid Offer
Each college or university that you list on your FAFSA and that accepts you will send you a financial aid offer, outlining the federal, state and college-specific financial aid available to you. It might arrive by email or postal mail. It might come with your acceptance letter or shortly afterward.
Understanding your financial aid offer
This financial aid package is designed to cover your Financial Need by bridging the gap between the Cost of Attendance and Your Expected Family Contribution. To accept the financial aid package offered by a college or university, follow all instructions. This might involve entering aid amounts you intend to accept in an online form or signing and returning a paper document by a specified deadline—usually May 1. Talk to the financial aid office at the college or university if an unusual circumstance delays your response.