The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in the financial aid process.  You use the FAFSA to apply for federal student aid, such as grants, work-study, and loans. In addition, most states and colleges use information from the FAFSA to award nonfederal aid.
The calculations on the FAFSA are required to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC measures your family’s financial strength and is used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. Your EFC will be listed on your Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR summarizes the information you submitted on your FAFSA.  It is important to review your SAR to make sure all of your information is correct and complete.
The financial aid office at your college will determine the amount of aid you will receive. The college will use your EFC to prepare a financial aid package to help you meet your financial need. Financial need is the difference between the cost of attendance as determined by your college, and your EFC. If you or your family has unusual circumstances such as medical, dental expenses or a change in income over the past year, that should be taken into account. Any financial aid you are eligible to receive will be paid to you through your college.
The best place for information about student financial aid is the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend.  The financial aid administrator can tell you about student aid available from the state, the college, and other sources.

In the fall 2015, the President announced two major changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process.

  • Beginning in 2017–2018, the first change is to begin application processing on October 1, earlier than in prior cycles. (This applies to Class of 2016 who will start college in 2017.)
  • To collect and use financial information from the tax/calendar year one year earlier than in the past. This means we are collecting the 2015 tax information (again) for 2017–2018; however, it is important to note that the needs analysis calculations have been revised. To provide the financial aid community with easy-to-access, updated information and resources relating to the 2017-2018 Early FAFSA, Federal Student Aid created an Early FAFSA Information page on IFAP. The Early FAFSA Information page includes links to relevant Dear Colleague Letters, Electronic Announcements, webinars, and other resources.

You are encouraged to complete the FAFSA electronically, because there are edits that reduce applicant errors and customize the questions presented based on answers to prior questions. The electronic version also contains additional instructions and help features and allows the Department to send results to the students and schools more quickly.

Go here to start the process.

Another helpful site for information on the FAFSA.