How Does FAFSA Work?

Fear (Not) The FAFSA

According to the National College Access Network, of the 3,549,010 students that graduated in 2019, 2,173,096 (61.2%) completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This was a slight increase over the Class of 2018 (60.9%) and the Class of 2017 (60.6%).

Although, a big question remains for 38.8% that did not complete the FAFSA — what did they miss out on?

The National College Access Network found that completing the FAFSA is “one of the best predictors of whether a high school senior will go on to college”, finding that seniors who complete the FAFSA are “84% more likely to immediately enroll in postsecondary education”. They also found that students in the lowest socioeconomic group, FAFSA completion is “associated with a 127% increase in immediate college enrollment”.

How does FAFSA work?

The FAFSA is used by colleges (the student lists), state government, and the federal government to assist students in accessing college-based, state, and/or federal financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study, and/or loans. It is crucial that students file the FAFSA each and every year throughout college (beginning their senior year in high school and continuing until they complete their college/grad school career).

The best time to submit the FAFSA is as soon as possible each October (when the FAFSA becomes available) because financial aid at many schools is limited and available on a first come first serve basis! To fill out the FAFSA this year, 2020-21 school year, a student will need parent and his/her own 2018 taxes (W2 and tax forms) and (recommended) FAFSA ID (parent and student).

The FAFSA ID, while not required, is the fastest way to sign the application and have it processed; and it’s the ONLY way to access or correct information online or pre-fill with the previous year’s FAFSA data (a big time saver)!

Hit Submit – Now What?

After submitting his/her FAFSA, the student will receive his/her Student Aid Report (SAR), in three days to three weeks, which includes the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The SAR gives the basic information about financial eligibility (includes the EFC and FAFSA question answers). The SAR also contains the data release code needed by the postsecondary institutions.

The EFC, located in the upper right corner of the SAR, is the estimated amount that a student’s family can contribute for his/her education. Postsecondary schools use the costs of attendance minus the EFC to determine the total financial need of the student. The higher the EFC, the less financial aid a student is likely to receive.

Knowledge+Preparedness = Power

The more one knows about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) the less frightful and overwhelming it will be. Understanding the purpose of the Student Aid Report (SAR) and Expected Family Contribution (EFC) can also ease fears by being prepared. And don’t forget to get student and parent FAFSA ID to electronically sign and update the FAFSA as needed. For answers to even more specific questions like FAFSA deadlines go to

Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to local high school counselors and postsecondary financial aid officers, they are willing and able to help!

Cecilia is in her 23rd year in education and currently teaches high school Family & Consumer Sciences courses including a concurrent credit class, Introduction to Education, through a local university. She has taught in the Pottsville School District (AR) since 2002 (16 years). In addition to teaching FACS, she has also taught 6th and 7th-grade mathematics and is a licensed school counselor. She is currently serving as the Career and Technical Education Content Lead Teacher for Arch Ford Cooperative.