Your Starting Point: The FAFSA

It’s a mouthful, but important. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form required by U.S. colleges and universities to determine eligibility for need-based financial aid. It is available as an online form, an app, and in hard copy.

Every student should complete a FAFSA.

Even if you assume your family won’t get any “free money,” in the form of scholarships or grants, you must complete a FAFSA to apply for a Federal Student Loan. Many schools also require the FAFSA to be completed before they can offer their own award package.

There's no income cutoff to qualify for federal student aid. So, apply! Your eligibility will be determined by a mathematical formula, not by your parents' income or your savings alone.

FAFSA FAQs

Q: Why do I have to fill out a FAFSA?  

A: The FAFSA is how you apply for loans and grants from your federal and state governments. Most schools require you to fill out the FAFSA to ensure you receive the institutional aid you are eligible for, as well.

Q: What’s the deadline?

A: You can complete a FAFSA between October 1st and June 30th the year prior to enrollment. For example, you should fill out the FAFSA during the 2018-2019 year to apply for aid for the 2019-2020 school year. Additionally, some funds are available first-come, first-served (for example: federal work-study programs), so you’ll want to fill yours out ASAP. Each college and university has a FAFSA priority deadline. Research your perspective college or university online or check with the financial aid office to see the school's priority FAFSA deadline. The FAFSA for the 2019-2020 academic year can be submitted as early as October 1, 2018. Use your or your family’s income from the 2017 calendar year. 

Check out this article to learn more.

Q: What is a FSA ID? Where can I find mine?  

A: The FSA ID is a Federal Student Aid Identification login and can serve as your legal signature. You will use this username and password to access your FAFSA application, student loan balance, and other financial aid tools. This will stick with you throughout your education, so be sure to keep this login in a safe spot. Retrieving lost or forgotten FSA IDs is a complicated process. Here is a resource to help if you’ve forgotten your FSA ID.

Q: Do I do the FAFSA every year?  

A: Yes, the FAFSA needs to be filled out once for every year you are in school. If you completed a FAFSA last year, you can choose to submit a Renewal FAFSA that might pre-fill a few of the fields. This option might save your family time and effort.

Q: I don't qualify for grants, why would I still fill out the FAFSA?  

A: The FAFSA does more than determine financial need for grants. The FAFSA helps schools determine a financial aid package for your student, it qualifies your student for federal loans, and it can open doors to some other payment options such as work study. Every family should fill out the FAFSA, regardless of parental income. Federal student loans usually have the lowest interest rates, the best repayment options, and forgiveness and cancellation options not offered by private lenders.

Q: What is EFC?  

A: EFC stands for Expected Family Contribution. The FAFSA calculates this number based on the information your family provides about their income and savings(excluding  retirement accounts). This number is how much the FAFSA assumes your family can contribute to your education. Use our Expected Family Contribution Calculator to help you plan for your FAFSA estimate. 

Note: Meeting with a Thrivent Scholar Advisor may help your family get a more accurate EFC. A Thrivent Scholar Advisor can help counsel your family about using appropriate financial vehicles (e.g.,: retirement savings in a 401k or an IRA instead of a savings account). Positioning your family's assets properly can help the FAFSA accurately assess your family’s ability to contribute to your education.

Q: Is there a resource if I'm stuck filling out the FAFSA?  

A: Yes, there are many resources available if you have questions about filling out the FAFSA. The federal government has done a great job of providing step-by-step guides during this process. Your school’s financial aid administrator (both high school and the college of your choice) also are willing to help. Want more information before you start? Check out the free FAFSA advice offered by Federal Student Aid. 

Apply Online

Ready to get started? Visit FAFSA.gov to begin your application.

Other questions? Email BoxCollegePlanning@thrivent.com to reach a Thrivent college planning expert.