A Comprehensive Guide to Completing the FAFSA

NurseJournal Staff
Updated February 17, 2022
    College is expensive, but finding financial aid for nursing students is very straightforward thanks to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Managed by Federal Student Aid, which is an office of the United States Department of Education...
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    College is expensive, but finding financial aid for nursing students is very straightforward thanks to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Managed by Federal Student Aid, which is an office of the United States Department of Education, the FAFSA allows students to get financial aid from the federal government to pursue their educational goals. Millions of students have received financial aid through the FAFSA to complete their education. In addition to money from the federal government, filing the FAFSA can also provide aid from state governments and colleges. This guide outlines everything you need to know to complete the FAFSA.

    How to Get Financial Aid in Nursing

    Filling out the FAFSA for nursing students entails the same process as it does for other students. However, work-study programs will be better tailored to nursing student interests, as these programs try to place students in work that is relevant to their degrees. There are also numerous scholarships from schools and private organizations for nursing students. The FAFSA can help you qualify for scholarships provided by your college.

    FAFSA Funding

    There are several kinds of funding that may be awarded after filing the FAFSA, including grants, scholarships, loans, and work study. Scholarships are awards that do not need to be repaid. Similarly, grants do not have to be repaid either, except in very specific situations, such as withdrawal before the end of the period the grant covers. Loans; however, must be repaid, but those received from the federal government have more generous interest rates and repayment options than those from private lenders. Federal work-study programs give students the opportunity to pay for college expenses through work that is relevant to their studies.

    You must submit the FAFSA every year to keep getting aid. Your aid offers are determined by subtracting your expected family contribution, or how much you earn (and your parents, if you’re a dependent), from the cost of attendance. Money awarded is disbursed to the school you attend, which uses it to pay for your tuition and fees before passing the remainder to you. The leftover money is intended to cover additional education expenses, such as books, supplies, and housing.

    FAFSA Eligibility Requirements

    To be eligible for the FAFSA you must have a high school diploma or GED and be enrolled in or accepted to a degree-granting program. You must also provide a valid Social Security number, and male applicants must be registered with the Selective Service. Citizenship or legal residency is also required. Finally, you must maintain satisfactory academic standing to remain eligible, which means that you are making progress toward completing your degree each academic year.

    How to Complete the FAFSA

    When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

    Generally, it is better to file the FAFSA sooner rather than later, especially if you are hoping to qualify for school or state funding, such as grants or scholarships. These sources have fewer funds to pull from, so they tend to run out sooner. However, you may want to time your application so that it coincides with a point at which your assets are lowest, which can result in a lower estimated family contribution, and therefore a more generous aid offer.

    What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?

    The first thing you need to file your FAFSA is a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID), which you get when you begin the filing process. This lets you access the website, submit your information, and connect your FAFSA to your IRS information. You need your Social Security number or Alien Registration number and a driver’s license or state ID number. Tax records from the previous year, as well as records of untaxed income and your assets, are also required. If you are a dependent, you also need this information from your parents. Finally, you must provide a list of schools to which you have applied or been accepted. If you file the FAFSA before applying, you may list schools to which you intend to apply. You do not need to complete the entire FAFSA form in one sitting; if you need to wait for some information, you can still get started with what you have.

    Filling Out Your FAFSA

    You can file your FAFSA online or by mail. If you decide to submit it by mail, you can either print a PDF or request a paper copy to be sent to you. Submitting online is much faster because it is reviewed sooner and skips questions that you don’t need to answer. With a paper version, it is best to answer every question to the best of your ability.

    The questions are split into several categories. Student information questions collect contact and demographic information, while financial questions ask about your ability to pay for your education. Student status questions concern your enrollment, marriage status, and other factors to determine who else might contribute to your school expenses. If you are a dependent, you must answer questions about your guardian’s financial status to help determine your estimated family contribution. Finally, student household information is used to further define your living situation as it pertains to aid opportunities.

    Once you answer the questions and are ready to submit your FAFSA, you must agree to a certifying statement that indicates you provided correct information and are filing your FAFSA in good faith.

    Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA

    • Apply Online: This is the fastest way to apply and results in the fastest response times from the Federal Student Aid office.
    • Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: This tool allows you to link your IRS data directly to your FSA ID, which makes completing your FAFSA easier, faster, and more accurate.
    • List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order: Some states require that schools be listed in a particular order if you want to receive state-based aid. They usually require schools in their state to be listed first.
    • Fill out Every Field of the Form: Applicants are able to skip parts of the online FAFSA form if they don’t have an answer. On paper, it is safest to answer all questions to the best of your ability.
    • Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances: If there are circumstances related to your financial situation which are not covered by the questions you answered, you can include a letter explaining them.

    Submitting the FAFSA

    How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?

    You must sign your FAFSA, which can be done in one of two ways. You can use an electronic signature, which allows you to sign online, or you can print, sign, and mail the signature page. You will have to submit a confirmation page as well, which states that you filed the FAFSA honestly and in good faith.

    Student Aid Report

    After you file your FAFSA and it is reviewed, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which will be emailed to you if you provided an email address. This document tells you what your estimated family contribution is, but it does not tell you how much aid you will get; you will receive that information from your college or the schools to which you are accepted. The SAR also lets you see your answers and allows you to make any corrections.

    How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?

    You will get an aid offer from any schools to which you have been accepted, or the school you attend if you’re already enrolled. This offer will tell you how much aid you can get of each type, with the opportunity to accept or decline any source of aid.


    What’s the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?

    The FAFSA becomes available on October 1 and is due June 30th the following year. States have their own deadlines to qualify for state-based aid.

    Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?

    Your grades are not taken into account in the FAFSA. However, once you are receiving aid, you must maintain progress toward your degree.

    Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?

    There is no age limit to qualify for the FAFSA, but you must have a high school diploma or GED.

    Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?

    Your income will never disqualify you for FAFSA funding, but it can disqualify you from certain grants and other awards based on financial need.

    Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?

    No. The citizenship or residency status of your parents is not necessary for the FAFSA and will not impact your eligibility in any way.

    How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?

    If you have all the information you need on hand, it can take as little as half an hour to finish the FAFSA online.

    Can You File Your FAFSA Before You’ve Applied to Any Schools?

    Yes, but you must include at least one school to which you plan to apply.

    Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?

    The best place to find information about the FAFSA is at the Federal Student Aid website, or from the financial aid counselor at your school.

    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

    Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.