Getting Financial Aid Starts With the FAFSA
As soon as you've wrapped up your college applications, you should plan to file your FAFSA. FAFSA stands for "Free Application for Federal Student Aid" - but we like to think of it as "Financial Aid's First Step Always." Families sometimes avoid filing a FAFSA because they don't think they'll qualify for federal aid. But the FAFSA does more than determine your eligibility for federal student aid (student loans, grants and federal Work-Study programs) - most schools also use the FAFSA to help decide your eligibility for scholarships and non-federal student aid. And states often use the FAFSA to determine state aid. Please check with fafsa.ed.gov for updates to the FAFSA process.
Some colleges and universities require additional forms such as the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®. Please check with your school to see if additional information is required in addition to the FAFSA.
Step 1 - Complete the FAFSA
You can fill out the FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov. To complete and submit your FAFSA online, you must create a U.S. Department of Education PIN. The PIN will serve as your electronic signature. Fill out the brief PIN application at pin.ed.gov.
You can file the FAFSA after January 1. Try to file as early as possible because award deadlines vary from school to school and state to state. Pay attention to your colleges' financial aid deadlines and other required financial aid forms.
Step 2 - Student Aid Report (SAR)
About four weeks after you file the FAFSA, you'll be emailed and asked to visit the Department of Education website to view a Student Aid Report (SAR) that confirms the information you filed. Check carefully for errors - any problems with your SAR can make a big difference in the aid you receive. Keep a copy of the SAR for your records.
If you haven't received your Student Aid Report four weeks after completing the FAFSA, you should contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at
Step 3 - Expected Family Contribution
You will see an amount known as your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) immediately after submitting your FAFSA online. Your EFC is the amount of money the government determines your family can contribute to your education. This figure is sent to your state's scholarship agency, as well as to the colleges you listed on the FAFSA so they can determine the size of your aid award. You can still get certain loans without a FAFSA, such as private loans, but you could miss out on some of the best loan deals and other aid if you don't file.
The PNC Education Loan Center offers a variety of loans that help finance the Expected Family Contribution amount. Send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact our customer service center to speak with a student loan specialist at
Step 4 - The Financial Aid Award Letter
The next part of the financial aid process begins when you receive your financial aid award letters from your top schools. Award letters indicate how much funding and what types of aid you're eligible to receive from each school. They can include grants, scholarships, work study programs and eligibility for federal student loans. Compare your award letters to understand the financial impact they might have.
For More Information
Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC)
Monday through Friday: 8am to midnight
Saturdays: 9am to 6pm Eastern time
FAFSA on the Web
The government offers a detailed, question-by-question guide to filling out the paper and online FAFSA.