Completing a FAFSA is the first step in applying for most federal, state, and college-provided financial aid for students. It stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid because it is filed with the US Department of Education, but most state-sponsored and college-sponsored aid requires the same FAFSA filing, so it is not only for federally sponsored student aid as the name might imply.
The FAFSA is used by aid providers to determine the amount of the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount that they expect the student’s family could contribute toward the student’s college education. EFC varies from student to student since it is based on the specific financial situation of the student and often of the student’s parents as well.
The FAFSA is often 100+ questions long and can cover various areas such as the student’s family situation, the student’s educational background, the student’s educational plans and prospective colleges, the student’s finances, the student’s spouse’s finances, and the student’s parents’ finances. Whether or not parent financial information is required depends on whether or not the student is determined to still be a dependent of one of their parents.
Once the FAFSA application is completed and filed, a federal processor will examine all the information provided and pass the examination results on to the financial aid offices of the preferred colleges listed on the FAFSA.