Skip to main content

Although the term "FAFSA" can induce dread and fear, the reality is that students must complete this application to be able to access multiple types of financial aid. Here are a few things to know:

Before and During the Completion Process

  • Changes to the FAFSA: The form itself may change from year to year. Some changes are big, such as the ability for students and parents to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that allows for the import of relevant federal tax information directly into the FAFSA. But there can also be smaller changes and tweaks to questions. It’s critical to stay up-to-date on those changes each year.
  • What is Needed to Complete the Form: Provide students and parents with a checklist of what they should gather and have available when filling out the FAFSA.
  • FAFSA Completion Events: These events can take place at school or at a partner site out of school; they may involve one large group or small groups; help can be offered one-on-one and/or virtually; etc. One-on-one FAFSA completion assistance is largely touted as the most effective way to get the FAFSA completed, but that’s just not always possible with a high volume of students. So it’s important to balance what’s most effective on paper with what you can reasonably accomplish given limited resources. In light of the pandemic and students attending school remotely, you may need to explore online platforms and host virtual FAFSA completion event(s).
  • Unique Situations: Some students have less-common family situations. It’s important to know how to address these situations to provide the highest probability possible for students to finance their postsecondary dreams and pursuits.
  • Who Uses the FAFSA: The FAFSA form is used to determine a student/family’s Expected Family Contribution toward paying for postsecondary education. The information is used for many purposes, including by the federal government to determining eligibility for the need-based Pell Grant and federal loans, state agencies to determine state awards, postsecondary institutions to determine institutional need-based aid, and scholarship providers to determine need-based scholarships.

Blogs, Webinars, and E-learning Courses:

Other Resources:

After the FAFSA

Your students are filing their FAFSAs – pat yourself on the back! But after the FAFSAs are completed, comes the even harder part: helping students and parents understand what they can afford and how to interpret the often confusing and inconsistently formatted financial aid offers.

  • Verification: Some students are selected by the federal government or a postsecondary institution to confirm the accuracy of the information on their FAFSA. This process can be intimidating and cumbersome and, unfortunately, seems to affect students from low-income backgrounds disproportionately. It’s important to stay in touch with students to find out if they’ve been selected for verification, and to support them through the document-gathering and submission process to get them through it.
  • Interpreting Financial Aid Offers (Sometimes Called Award Letters): What is included in the cost of attendance and what isn’t? Are some schools including loans as part of the “award” package? Helping students and parents compare offers can be a challenge, especially if these offers are not formatted in similar ways. How can you help them make the right decision about college?
  • Understanding Affordability: This is part financial literacy, part setting expectations about what a family can really afford to send a student to college without getting in over their heads and accruing large amounts of debt. It includes providing information about loans; grants; state, federal, and institutional aid; scholarships; etc.
  • Financial Aid Appeals: Financial aid packages can be appealed, and on occasion, students may be able to receive more aid. Students and families must be informed about whether an appeal is possible, how that process works, and what role advisers of college access programs can play in making a successful appeal.

Blogs, Webinars, and E-learning Courses:

Other Resources:


About National College Attainment Network

National College Attainment Network's (NCAN) mission is to build, strengthen, and empower communities and stakeholders to close equity gaps in postsecondary attainment for all students. Drawing on the expertise of hundreds of organizational members in every U.S. state, the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) is dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of support that underrepresented students receive to apply to, enter, and succeed in postsecondary education. Learn more at