FAFSA: What you should know

Stacks of coins with tiny mortarboard on top

Jason Keller
September 18, 2017

Most college students are intimately familiar with the acronym FAFSA, and they have every incentive to be. FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is something college students fill out every year in order to be eligible for financial aid from the government. It’s your ticket to a piece of that $150-billion-dollar pie of federal education funding.

FAFSA basics

  • First of all, to get started, you’ll need to head on over to FAFSA.gov and create your FSA ID.
  • The 2018 FAFSA application opens on October 1, 2017. You'll base your FAFSA information on your parents' or your 2016 taxes.  
  • Each college might have a different deadline. You should check with the college you plan on attending. 
  • Your FAFSA determines whether you get government grants or loans to help pay for your education. 
  • You’ll need yours and your parents' social security numbers, as well as your driver’s license number, tax returns, W-2s, bank statements and investment earnings. If you live with one parent or guardian, you’ll only need the income of the parent you live with.

FAFSA myths

  • “My parents make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.”
    The fact is, there is no income cutoff to qualify for federal student aid. There are a number of different factors that go into calculating your financial aid. If your parents are pulling in a six-figure salary, it’s not the end of the world. Families with multiple kids attending college at the same time sometimes get a break. And if you’re looking at a private school (instead of a typically less-expensive public school), your odds of getting aid are higher.
  • "Only students with good grades get financial aid."
    Most federal student aid programs don’t consider a student’s grades, though a high GPA can help you get into a good school and assist with academic scholarships. FAFSA dollars will help an average student complete their education provided they maintain good academic progress throughout their academic career. 
  • "My ethnicity or age makes me ineligible for federal student aid."
    The eligibility requirements are listed here. Ethnicity and age are not considered.
  • “I support myself, so I don’t have to include parent info on the FAFSA.”
    This all depends on whether or not you are listed as a dependent or independent on your taxes. If you are independent, you won’t need to list parents' information. However, if you are dependent, you will need to list their information. Just because you file your own taxes or support yourself doesn’t qualify you as an independent. The FAFSA has a series of questions which will determine your status, and you can preview them here.


is a senior at UNC and is planning to graduate in December 2018. He is studying journalism and writing, with an emphasis in news and multimedia. He has a passion for marketing, technology and writing, and hopes to work in marketing after he graduates. When he's not at work, he likes to listen to music, read, study, write and spend time with friends.