Why Is FAFSA Important?

It’s not unusual for college applicants to have questions about how to apply for financial aid, particularly first-generation students who may not be familiar with the system. The good news is that it’s not nearly as complex as many assume. The first step in the financial aid process is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The U.S. Department of Education reviews your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for need-based federal aid, such as grants, loans, and work-study jobs. Students who don’t complete and file the FAFSA won’t qualify for most forms of financial assistance.

A prospective student fills out the FAFSA online.

If you have additional questions about why the FAFSA is important, below you’ll find a list of some of the most common FAQs about the process at the time of writing, including who should complete the form, financial aid eligibility requirements, whether undocumented students are eligible for financial aid, and how first-gen students can complete their FAFSA online. Be sure to follow up with FAFSA’s Help Center or your institution’s admissions and financial aid advisor for the latest policies and updates.

Who Should Fill Out a FAFSA?

All aspiring college students should complete and file a FAFSA to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid. Information in the FAFSA also determines eligibility for state aid, such as grants, loans, scholarships, or tuition waivers, and eligibility for direct aid from the college they plan to attend. Even students who think they’re ineligible for aid should complete a FAFSA because they may learn that they qualify. Financial aid for first-gen college students is often just a click away. There’s no harm in applying.

Is the FAFSA Hard to Fill Out?

Completing the FAFSA isn’t nearly as difficult, time consuming, or tedious as it was in the past. The form has been simplified and can be completed online. The Education Department reports that most applicants can complete and file their FAFSA in less than an hour.

Am I Eligible to Receive Federal Student Aid?

The Education Department notes that applicants need to meet certain eligibility requirements for federal student aid. Current eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Applicants need to demonstrate financial need. Financial need is calculated by evaluating a student’s cost of attendance (COA) for the school they’ve applied to, minus their expected family contribution (EFC). According to the website of the Office of Federal Student Aid, an Education Department agency, “This number is calculated with the EFC formulas, which use the information that students provide on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).”
  • Applicants need to be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or permanent resident (green card holder). Certain non-U.S. citizens may qualify for federal financial aid if they have a T visa, battered immigrant status, or an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that indicates that they’re an “eligible noncitizen.”
  • Applicants need to have a valid Social Security number (applicants from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands are exempt from this requirement).
  • Applicants need to have a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. Students who’ve completed their high school education in a homeschool environment are also eligible to apply.
  • Applicants need to be enrolled in or accepted to attend college as a regular student in an eligible certificate or degree program.
  • Males aged 18-25 need to be registered with the Selective Service System (SSS).
  • Applicants need to sign certifying statements that they’ll only use their student aid for educational purposes. They also need to certify that they’re not in default on a prior federal loan and don’t owe the government a refund on prior federal grant disbursements.
  • Students need to maintain at least half-time enrollment to be eligible to receive direct loan funds, including direct subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans, and direct PLUS loans.
  • Students who receive federal financial aid need to maintain their school’s standards for satisfactory academic progress.

Undocumented Students and the FAFSA

Undocumented students often have questions about their eligibility to receive federal student aid. A few of the most common FAQs are:

  • Can DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients receive federal student aid? DACA recipients aren’t eligible to receive federal student aid; however, they should fill out the FAFSA because they may still be eligible to receive private scholarships, state aid, or financial aid from the college they plan to attend.
  • When is an I-94 holder considered to be an “eligible noncitizen”? Eligible I-94 holders include the following:
    • Applicants with refugee status.
    • Applicants who’ve been granted asylum.
    • Applicants classified as Cuban/Haitian entrants.
    • Applicants who’ve been classified as conditional entrants. This is valid only if the I-94 was issued before April 1, 1980.
    • Certain applicants who’ve been classified as parolees. According to the website of the Office of Federal Student Aid, applicants “must be paroled for at least one year, and you must be able to provide evidence from the USCIS that you are in the United States for other than a temporary purpose with the intention of becoming a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.”
  • I’m a noncitizen but I don’t qualify as an “eligible noncitizen.” Can I still get financial aid? Consult the institution you plan to attend to see if it offers aid packages for students like you. Scholarship opportunities may also be available. Finally, check with your country’s local consulate or embassy about any aid programs that you can apply for.
  • Is my parents’ immigration or citizenship status impact considered in federal student aid calculations? Additionally, the FAFSA doesn’t ask you to provide information about your parents’ citizenship or immigration status.

How to Fill Out the FAFSA Online

The first step in filling out the FAFSA online is to visit the Office of Federal Student Aid at StudentAid.gov to create a username and password (also known as an FSA ID). Your FSA ID allows you to track your application status online. After creating an FSA ID, you need to gather several pieces of information:

  • Social Security number
  • Alien registration number (if applicable)
  • Federal tax information (or a copy of your most recent tax return)
  • Records of untaxed income, such as disability benefits, workers’ compensation, and child support payments
  • Checking and savings account balances
  • Information about your personal investment accounts, such as an IRA or a 401(k)

Most FAFSA applications are processed within a few days, and applicants should receive a financial aid offer from each school they’ve applied to. Each offer should outline the amount and type of aid they’re eligible to receive from each institution.

Maryville FAFSA Tips and FAQs

Future Maryville University students should fill out a FAFSA while they’re completing their college application. Students who have questions about their financial aid eligibility can speak privately with a Maryville academic advisor, as each individual’s situation is unique. Other Maryville FAFSA tips include the following:

  • The FAFSA application asks for an institutional code. What is Maryville’s? When filling out the FAFSA online, Maryville’s institutional code is 002482.
  • How can I access my student aid decision? Information about your financial aid package should be made available to students in the Financial Aid section of their student portal. You will receive an email when the award is ready to be reviewed, accepted, rejected, or adjusted. The following steps must be followed to complete the award acceptance process on StudentAid.gov:
    • If you are an undergraduate student and a first time federal loan borrower, you will need to complete the Master Promissory Note and entrance loan counseling.
    • If you are a graduate student and a first time federal loan borrower you will need to complete the Master Promissory Note and entrance loan counseling.
    • You must also complete Plus Loan entrance counseling if you are applying for a graduate Plus Loan.
    • If you are a first time Maryville University student and have borrowed federal loans while attending other universities or colleges, you will need to complete the Master Promissory Note for Maryville University.
  • How many Maryville students receive financial aid? In the past year, a total of 93% of full-time Maryville students have received some form of aid.
  • Should students fill out a FAFSA before or after they apply? Students should fill out the application when applying to Maryville.
  • How far in advance of enrollment should students fill out the FAFSA? Students should fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible, as processing times vary throughout the year.
  • I still have questions. What should I do? Every situation is unique, and you’re always welcome to speak privately with your enrollment advisors: 1.888.266.0574 who will help direct you to the right resources.

Complete the FAFSA and Step Toward Your Future

All college students, including first-gen applicants, should complete the FAFSA regardless of their financial or immigration status. Congratulations to all aspiring students who plan to complete the FAFSA and take the first brave step toward earning a college degree. For more information about Maryville, including financial aid information and our online degree programs, visit us online.

Recommended Reading

College Planning Guide for High School Students

Conquering Back-to-School Anxiety: Emotional Side of Learning

7 Tips for Achieving Self-Empowerment


Fastweb, “Why Should I Complete the FAFSA?”

FSA Partner Connect, Complete the FAFSA Form

Maryville University, Financial Aid Information for Maryville University

Maryville University, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Maryville University, Financial Aid FAQs

Office of Federal Student Aid, Basic Eligibility Criteria

Office of Federal Student Aid, Eligibility for Non-U.S. Citizens

Office of Federal Student Aid, How Do I Answer the ‘What Was the Total of Your Other Untaxed Income or Benefits?’ Question on the FAFSA Form?

Office of Federal Student Aid, How Long Will It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?

Office of Federal Student Aid, The EFC Formula, 2021-2022

Office of Federal Student Aid, The FAFSA Process

Road2College, Do I Need to Fill Out FAFSA Even if I Don’t Qualify for Financial Aid?

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