We research all brands listed and may earn a fee from our partners. Research and financial considerations may influence how brands are displayed. Not all brands are included. Learn more.

parent and teenager filling out form
Steve Debenport—Getty Images

The FAFSA, officially known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the form that families fill out to apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study funds for college students. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides more than $150 billion in student aid each year.

Your eligibility for federal grants (which don’t have to be repaid) and federal loans (which do) will generally be based on your financial need, as determined by the information you supply on your FAFSA. You can get a preview of whether the FAFSA is likely to qualify you for federal grants by using the FAFSA4caster on the Department of Education website.

Best college education image

Even if the FAFSA4caster indicates that your family’s income and assets put you out of the range for grants, it’s still worth going ahead and completing the FAFSA. That’s because most colleges, state scholarship agencies, and foundations use the FAFSA in deciding who gets their scholarship money, as well as how much each student will receive. Also, filing a FAFSA automatically qualifies you for low-cost federal student loans of at least $5,500 a year.

You can find out more about the FAFSA, including the deadlines for completing it, at the Federal Financial Aid website.

Related articles:

7 Legal Ways to Squeeze More College Aid From the FAFSA

Don’t Miss This Little-Known Source of College Scholarship Money

This Formula Can Help You Figure Out How Much to Save for College