Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first and most important step in finding money for college. All federal loans, work-study, and grants are determined by the FAFSA, and most colleges use the FAFSA as a basis for awarding their own institutional aid. Complete the FAFSA every year you plan to attend college.
Local FAFSA Completion Assistance
The Campaign for Working Families assists low-income families in Philadelphia with free tax preparation.
The School District of Philadelphia hosts FAFSA completion events throughout the school year. You can find information about those events here.
You can find both in-person and virtual FAFSA completion events and workshops posted to the PhillyGoes2College calendar.
See 👏 your 👏 counselor! Trust us. There is nothing more your high school counselor would love to do than help pave your way to an affordable college education.
When to Complete the FAFSA
Normally, you can begin applying for the FAFSA on October 1st. This year, however, the FAFSA will open in December 2023 (exact date TBD) for all students applying for aid for the 2024-2025 school year (this includes both incoming and current college students). The FAFSA has a later opening this year due to the FAFSA Simplification Act which resulted in changes to the form. The FAFSA will return to the normal October 1st opening in 2024.
What hasn’t changed? You should apply as early as possible. For instance, if you plan to attend college in Fall 2024, you should submit your FAFSA as close as possible to the FAFSA’s December 2023 release date. Financial aid at many colleges is first-come first-served, meaning students who submit their FAFSA early have a better chance of receiving need-based scholarships from colleges. You will want to know three FAFSA deadlines: the national deadline, the state deadline, and the deadlines for the colleges you’re applying to.
What can you do while you wait for the FAFSA to open in December? Work with your parents or guardians to gather required documents and create FSA IDs so you are ready to go when the form opens!
What You Need Before Filling Out the FAFSA
Head here, under “Gathering the Documents You Need to Apply.” Plan to gather your documents and create FSA IDs with your parent.
Providing Parent Information
If you are considered a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, you’ll need to provide information about your legal parent(s) on the application. To determine who will complete parent information on the FAFSA on your behalf, head here. Don’t worry if this seems complicated! New to this year’s updated FAFSA form is a “Parent Wizard” tool that will help you figure out which parent(s) should be adding their information.
You will need parent information to complete the FAFSA even if your parent will not be contributing financially to your education. A parent is identified by the FAFSA as a “contributor” because they are contributing information, not money. Parents do not become financially responsible for paying for college by completing the FAFSA. The financial information a parent provides is simply a measure of your family’s ability to pay that is used to determine the amount of need-based aid you are eligible to receive.
What Happens After You Complete the FASA
After submission, you’ll receive your Student Aid Report. 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, a process called FAFSA Verification. Work with your high school counselor or college financial aid office to work through the verification process.
Being selected for FAFSA Verification does not mean you did anything wrong. It just means you may need to supply additional materials to confirm the information you included on the FAFSA.
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.
Breaking It Down
Here are some of our favorite resources for taking the FAFSA one step at a time.
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. You can also access this form through your studentaid.gov account or through an email you will receive to the address you provided. Visit the Funding Opportunities tab on the PHEAA website 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.