As a prospective online college student, you might wonder if the widely-given advice that all students fill out and submit a FAFSA applies in your situation. Online students can seek various types of financial aid through the FAFSA. Doing so could open up numerous financial aid opportunities to students, making college substantially more affordable.

Understanding the FAFSA

The acronym FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Essentially, the FAFSA is a form that students fill out to be considered for several types of financial aid at the federal, state and institutional level. As the name implies, it costs students and their families nothing to submit the application. Filling out the FAFSA is as important for online students as it is for traditional college students because it is what determines eligibility for most types of financial aid, including federal student loans, state funding, grants, work-study opportunities, and scholarships.

Remember that the FAFSA must be filled out each year for which you are seeking any form of financial aid, so just because you submitted the form last year doesn’t mean you can skip the application this year. Some states distribute aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s important to complete the application sooner rather than later to make sure that you don’t miss out on any opportunities. The form is available online to make it easier and more efficient to complete. Before you get started, make sure you know whether or not you will be considered an independent student (which is typically only after the student has gotten married, reached age 25, or fits another requirement) and gather together the information you will need, like your most recent tax returns.

Dispelling FAFSA Myths and Misunderstandings

One deterrent to filling out the FAFSA is the mistaken belief that students may have that they won’t be eligible for any aid. There is no age-based or income-based cutoff that will prevent you from receiving aid. Your age only counts for determining if you are still considered dependent on your parents, not for determining the amount of aid you will receive. Even if your family’s income level makes you ineligible for grants, you may still be able to obtain federal student loans or other forms of financial aid that may not be need-based, like scholarships. As the U.S. Department of Education advises students, the only way to see how much and what kinds of aid for which you are eligible is to fill out the FAFSA. Otherwise, you could be leaving money on the table and making college more unaffordable than it needs to be.

For many students and families, filling out the FAFSA is intimidating. In actuality, the form isn’t as complicated as many people believe, and the time spent filling it out is worthwhile when you get the financial aid you need to turn the education of your dreams into a reality.