All students who wish to apply for federal financial assistance must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). We strongly encourage you to apply, even if you do not think you will qualify. Also, be aware you will need to file the FAFSA if you are interested in borrowing any federal student loan: Direct Stafford Loan, Direct PLUS Loan for Parents, Direct PLUS Loan for Graduate and Professional Students. As of July 1, 2010, all federal student loans are provided by the US Department of Education through the Direct Loan Program. Federal loans can no longer be obtained through banks or private lenders.
To qualify for federal aid you must:
- have financial need (except for certain loans).
- have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or pass a test approved by the U.S. Department of Education, and meet other standards your state establishes that the Department approves, or complete a high school education in a home school setting that is treated as such under state law.
- be working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program.
- be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
- have a valid Social Security Number (unless you’re from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau).
- register with the Selective Service if required. You can use the paper or electronic FAFSA to register, you can register at www.sss.gov, or you can call 1-847-688-6888 (TTY users can call 1-847-688-2567).
- maintain satisfactory academic progress once in school.
- certify that you are not in default on a federal student loanand do not owe money on a federal student grant.
- certify that you will use federal student aid only for educational purposes.
- not be incarcerated.
The information you supply on your FAFSA will be used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is a measure of you (if you are an independent student) or your family’s financial strength based on you or your family’s income and assets. The EFC determines your eligibility for federal student aid and also indicates how much you and your family are expected to contribute to your educational costs. The EFC is not an “out-of-pocket” expectation and many families meet their EFC through borrowing.
If your EFC is below a certain number, you may qualify for a Pell grant. Your eligibility for other types of federal assistance will be determined by your school. If you are going to college for the first time, each of the schools you list on your FAFSA will provide a financial aid award letter to you after you have been offered admission. Usually, these offers come between February and April depending upon when you filed the FAFSA (file as soon after January 1 of the year you will attend as possible), responded to any school requests for additional information and when you were granted admission. Be sure to compare the offers you receive and be sure to understand what types of aid you are being offered and whether or not any or all have to be repaid. Remember, aid comes in the form of grants (and scholarships), work and student loans.
If you are returning to school as an upperclassman, you will need to file the FAFSA again. In fact, you need to file for every year you wish to be considered for assistance. The good news is the renewal FAFSA will be easier for you to complete. Expect your financial aid award letter to come sometime between May and July depending upon when you filed the FAFSA, responded to any school requests for additional information and when your school’s financial aid office gets to your file.
For more information about the financial aid process, see our sections on the home page that relate to your specific situation.