Explore the FAFSA Process
Follow the steps of the Department of Education: analyze, calculate, and report.
High school students should apply as early as possible after January 1 of their senior year and every following January throughout their college career.
After the student and his or her parents, if applicable, complete the FAFSA, they submit it to the Department of Education. The Department of Education:
- Analyzes the information from the FAFSA,
- Calculates the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and
- Sends a Student Aid Report (SAR) to the student.
The SAR summarizes the information the student provided on his or her FAFSA, and if the student's information is complete provides the student's EFC. If the student's information is incomplete or incorrect, the SAR directs the student to provide complete or correct information.
When the student receives the SAR, he or she must:
- Review the information reported on the document for accuracy. For example, because the FAFSA is often completed before tax forms have been filed, the student may have reported estimated information on the FAFSA that now needs to be corrected; and
- Make corrections, if indicated by the Department of Education, or if the student has more accurate information about his or her family's income than when the FAFSA was completed (corrections may be made and submitted online or on paper).
If corrections are made, the Department of Education recalculates the EFC and sends the student a corrected SAR. The student should once again review the information on the SAR for accuracy.
In most cases, the SAR does not need to be submitted to the school. This is because most schools receive the student's information electronically. The student should keep a copy of the SAR for his or her records.
Finally, the Department of Education sends the application information electronically to the schools listed on the FAFSA.
At the School: Verifying Eligibility
When the school receives the student's information from the Department of Education, the financial aid office evaluates the information to determine whether the student needs to submit any additional documents to complete the financial aid application process. The documents required by each school differ somewhat depending on the types of aid the school has to offer and whether or not the student has been selected for verification.
Verification is the process of confirming the accuracy of the information that a student and his or her parents provided on the FAFSA. To accomplish verification, schools may request specific documents from students and their families, such as a U.S. income tax return and a Verification Worksheet. Verification is conducted because the Department of Education selected the student, or because the school's policy requires it. Schools usually set deadlines for receipt of these additional documents. To avoid jeopardizing the timely receipt of aid, students should always submit required documents to the school by the established deadlines. It is equally important to submit documents that are complete, signed, and dated.
Supplemental State and Institutional Applications
Some states and schools have applications, in addition to the FAFSA, to gather supplemental information they need to determine a student's eligibility for state and/or institutional aid.
For instance, some schools require a supplemental application known as the Financial Profile Service offered by the College Scholarship Service, to award their institutional funds. Also, state agencies and schools may have their own supplemental forms that students must complete to determine state and/or institutional aid eligibility.
Students and/or parents should work closely with the financial aid office of each school to which they apply. Many schools and states provide financial aid application information and supplemental applications on the Internet. Reviewing college catalogs or comprehensive college guides can also be helpful in determining whether additional applications are required.