Article Highlights

  • Completing the FAFSA is the only way to qualify for federal grants and loans. Many schools also use the FAFSA to determine merit-aid eligibility.
  • Some federal aid is first come first serve, so submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.
  • Complete the FAFSA even if you don’t think you will receive aid. There is no income cap for federal student aid and most people qualify.

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in paying for college. Despite being free to complete, many families still forgo the FAFSA, which left over $3.75 billion of free financial aid unclaimed for 2021. Don't let these top FAFSA myths prevent you from receiving money you need for college.

Myth #1 — My family doesn't qualify for financial aid

Don't assume that you make too much money to qualify for financial aid. There is no income cap and most people qualify for some aid. The FAFSA calculates your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based on many factors, such as parent's age, number of dependent children and income.

The FAFSA is used for more than free aid. Many schools use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships, grants, work-study programs and federal student loans. There is no income cap to be eligible for federal student aid. While higher-income families may not be awarded need-based aid, your child may still be eligible for merit-based grants, scholarships, and federal loans.

Myth #2 — My child doesn't have strong academic scores

Merit-based awards look at a student's grades and achievements, but these awards make up only a small percentage of the total aid awarded. The FAFSA is primarily used in determining need-based aid, although some schools use it to award non-need-based aid, as well. According to the US Department of Education, most of the need-based federal student aid programs do not take a student's grades into consideration.

Myth #3 — I can’t fill out the FAFSA until I know where I’m applying

As you’re filling out the FAFSA, list any schools you’re planning on applying to, even if you haven’t sent in your applications. You can list up to ten schools on the FAFSA—if you’re planning on applying to more, you can add them after you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). Even if you think it’s a possibility you will apply, then it’s worth adding them to your FAFSA so you don’t miss out on financial aid.

Myth #4 — I can’t fill out the FAFSA if my taxes aren’t filed

The FAFSA process allows families to use the tax return from two years ago to complete the application. For example, students applying for the 2022–23 school year should use 2020 tax information. This makes filling out the FAFSA easier because families should already have their taxes filed when completing the FAFSA, and you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to transfer your tax information into your application. If you don’t have your taxes filed, you can use paystubs, 1099s, and W-2s instead.

If your financial situation has changed since filing your tax return two years ago, you can notify the schools about these changes after you complete the FAFSA. They can use the additional information when they determine your financial aid award.

Myth #5 — My family didn't qualify last year, so we won’t qualify this year

Your eligibility for financial aid is reconsidered each year you are in school, and the FAFSA is how you can address changes that may affect your family’s ability to pay for college. For example, job loss, illness, or having multiple children in college can make your family eligible for more aid this year than in prior years. Completing the FAFSA each year you’re in school is the only way to make sure you don’t miss out on federal aid.

Myth #6 — It doesn’t matter when I fill out the FAFSA

The FAFSA becomes available each year on October 1. Some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so fill it out as soon as possible to be at the front of the line. Because the FAFSA does require quite a bit of financial information, it can be helpful to begin rounding up the required documentation before you sit down to complete it.

Myth #7 — The FAFSA is the only way I’ll qualify for aid

Filling out the FAFSA is the only way to be considered for federal aid. But there are other types of aid you will also want to apply for. In addition to the FAFSA, about 250 colleges require the CSS Profile® to be considered for institutional aid. You should also reach out to your high school counselor and the schools on your list about scholarships, and keep searching for private scholarships on your own.


FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

CSS Profile® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

We are unable to provide tax advice, so please see IRS.gov or ask a tax professional if you have questions.

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