FAFSA Vocab: The Basics

When you fill out the FAFSA for the first time, you might encounter words you’ve never seen before. But we’re here to help! Here’s a quick run down of some of the most common terms, starting at the beginning:

FAFSA: Otherwise known as Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Filling out the FAFSA form is what qualifies you for federal student aid like grants, work-study, loans, and some scholarships.

FSA ID: Stands for Federal Student Aid ID. This is a username and password that you create and it allows you to electronically sign the FAFSA application before you hit submit.

SAR: Or, Student Aid Report. You’ll receive this after your FAFSA application is processed, and it’s essentially a summary of the information you entered along with some basic information about which types of aid you may qualify for.

EFC: Stands for Estimated Family Contribution. Based on the information you entered, you’re given a number that represents how much the government expects your family to be able to contribute to your education. Sometimes this number is 0, sometimes it’s in the thousands. It all depends on your family’s financial background. You can find your EFC on your confirmation page as soon as you hit submit.

Grant: Gift aid that’s given based on demonstrated need. This money doesn’t have to be paid back.

Federal Student Loan: Money that is borrowed from the government and will have to be paid back. You can also get loans from banks, colleges, foundations, or other sources.

Work-study: Students who qualify for work-study can take a part-time job on campus as part of their financial aid package. There is a large variety of job opportunities on college campuses. Here are just a few examples. 

FAFSA Verification: Sometimes, the people who review your FAFSA form will request additional information about you or your parents. Often it’s as simple as filling out another form. Typically this will come from the colleges you apply to, and if you get a letter from one college asking you to supply additional information, you’ll probably get it from the other colleges you applied to as well. If you have ANY questions about this process, contact the college’s financial aid office. They get phone calls and emails from students asking for help with this all the time.

Financial Aid Award Letter: This the letter you get from your prospective colleges (often in the late winter, early spring time) that outlines the cost of attending school there and how much financial aid you will qualify for based on your FAFSA. Using this letter, you can figure out how much a semester will likely cost you after all your scholarships, grants, and loans are applied.

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