Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first, and most important step in finding money for college. All federal loans and grants are determined by the FAFSA, and most colleges use the FAFSA as a basis for awarding their own institutional aid. The data you input on your FAFSA is used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution or your EFC. The EFC is an indicator of your family’s financial ability to pay for education after high school and is used to determine your financial need. After submitting your FAFSA, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). Your Student Aid Report, is a summary of your FAFSA responses. Review your SAR carefully, and make any necessary corrections or updates immediately. Your SAR will be sent to the colleges you have applied to. Check the websites of each college to see if there is supplementary material you must submit. Upon review of your SAR, each college will send you a financial aid award letter. You can compare all the aid packages you are offered, and use this as a basis for making your final choice.

Get an estimate of your Expected Family Contribution use Big Future’s EFC Calculator.

Apply Early

You can complete FAFSA applications beginning January 1st of every year. You should apply as early as possible. For instance, if you plan to attend college in the fall of 2020, you should submit your FAFSA as close as possible to January 1, 2020. Check each college’s website to see their independent FAFSA deadline. Since applications are due before annual taxes, you will have to use last year’s taxes to make estimates for certain financial question, however, your SAR will come after you have completed this year’s taxes. If you have made estimates, update your FAFSA with the correct information.


The Benefit Bank is a fast, free, and secure website for filing your taxes, completing the FAFSA, and various other financial services. When you file your taxes through the Benefit Bank it can automatically transfer that information to your FAFSA.  If your family earns less than $57,000 a year, you are eligible for their services.

BenePhilly Centers at The People’s Emergency Center (as well as 5 other sites across the city) assists low-income families in Philadelphia with benefit services, free tax preparation and FAFSA completion.

Philly Goes2College offers one-on-one Financial Aid Appointments. You can request a Financial Aid appointment through this site.

Free Money 4 Philly is a citywide campaign designed to inform residents about updates to the FAFSA application process, share additional tools and resources for financing college and keep you up to date with local activities and events for support and technical assistance.

State Grants

To find out if you qualify for a PHEAA State Grant, you will first need to complete the FAFSA.

If you are eligible, a link to the PHEAA form will appear at the top of the confirmation page of the FAFSA. Be careful, the link is small and easy to miss. When you click on this link you will be asked to complete additional information. After completing, be sure to print out your application, sign and return the signature page by mail. Visit PHEAA’s Funding Opportunities page to learn more about how state aid can help you.

In order to qualify for the PHEAA you must complete your FAFSA by May 1st for four-year colleges and August 1st for two-year and technical colleges.