We can all agree a good education is indeed the foundation for a better future. However, an advanced education is extremely expensive for many people living in the U.S. Fortunately; there are programs that can help to alleviate the financial pressure of attending college, graduate school or career school– one being FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA is an online application program which is compulsory for students who want to apply for financial aid. Without applying for this program you won’t be able to access funding provisions such as grants, loans, work study funding and scholarships made available by the federal government.

The application process is free, and it gives you access to a range of monetary resources to pay for college. Furthermore, financial institutions and private corporations that offer funding also require that you apply through the FAFSA program.

The application is used to gather vital information about each applicant. The information is then used to assess whether or not you are eligible for financial support, and the amount you’ll need if you do. The extent of financial aid you receive is calculated based on the cost of attendance for your institution. Factors such as books, tuition, and other school related expenses are taken into account. FAFSA also factors in how much your family contributes to your education when determining how much money to give you.

How does FAFSA work?

You must complete the online application which will require information such as your Social Security Number if you are a U.S. citizen, Alien Registration Number if you are a non-U.S. citizen, federal income tax returns, W-2s, and/or proof of other monetary earnings, along with other information. For smooth and quick processing you must apply early and make sure that you fill out the form correctly and turn in the required documents.

What are the benefits?

One of the great benefits of applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is that it gives you access to scholarships and grants. These are essentially ‘free money,’ meaning they don’t require repayment and can come from private organizations, federal and state government or your institution.

Scholarships are awarded based on merit and grants are need – based. If your financial needs are great, here are some grants you can access with FAFSA:

This grant is awarded to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need. Though the amount varies from year to year, the maximum amount you can get is $6,095. You can only receive this grant for 12 semesters (the equivalent of 6 years), and you must reapply each year.   

You can be eligible for this grant if you had a parent or guardian in the U.S. armed forces who died while performing services in Iraq or Afghanistan. The maximum amount you can obtain is equivalent to the Federal Pell Grant, $6,095.

This grant also does not require repayment except in unique cases. It differs from the Pell Grants in that the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid only gives participating schools a specific amount of money per year — the amount given is not based on the number of students that need funding. You can receive between $100 to $4,000 but early application is vital since funds are disbursed to students with the direst financial need, and based on availability of funds.

• Teacher Education Assistant for College and Higher Education (TEACH) – This grant differs from the others on the list in that you must take certain classes to become eligible. As the name suggests, you must be pursuing a career in teaching and completing the necessary coursework. Students can access a maximum amount of $4,000 yearly.

How will the funds be disbursed?

The money will not be sent directly to you; it will be disbursed to your institution which will then notify you when the fees have been paid. The process works a bit differently for work-study students; if you fall under this category, you have the option of the money being paid either via check or directly to your student account.

Remember that if you want to be in the running to access available funding for college, early application for FAFSA is essential!