im just confused lol. how does it work like do i apply?
Hey there! The FAFSA is basically a form you fill out before each year of college, and it is used to knock money off a school's sticker price for you in several ways, such as through grants (which you don't need to pay back), loans (you do need to pay back, with interest), and work-study opportunities (a part-time job, usually on campus, where the money goes towards school expenses). The form (which is free!) asks for information about income, taxes, assets, family situations, if you have siblings in college, etc., and the website will walk you through the steps.
The main thing the FAFSA does is determine your EFC--estimated family contribution--which is how much money your family is expected to be able to pay for college. This number is then used by colleges to help determine what your financial aid package looks like. However, the EFC is not the exact amount you will pay at any college; many schools do not cover 100% of demonstrated need and you may have to pay more than the EFC. To get a sense of what the schools will make you pay, look up "[school name] net price calculator" and fill out the information. In my experience, these calculators were usually a few thousand off from the actual offers I got, but they were still useful for comparing colleges.
One more thing to note is that the FAFSA and merit aid are separate. The FAFSA does not account for scholarships through the college or through outside organizations, so you may end up paying less if you get scholarships. Many colleges offer merit aid based on your Common App, but be sure to check the websites because some require nominations or extra essays. Bucknell requires supplemental essays, for example.
Outside scholarships are a little weirder: if you get an outside scholarship, you are required to report it to the school you attend, and they may reduce your financial need because they count the scholarship as "income". However, the scholarship money is usually used to reduce loans and work-study first, then any extra money basically replaces some of their need-based aid.
One last thing to look into is the CSS. Some schools use it, but not all. It's similar to the FAFSA in terms of what information you provide but you have to pay ($25 for the first college, $16 for each additional college--there are fee waivers available).
I hope this helps! Here are some more resources if you're still confused on anything:
https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa (FAFSA website)
https://blog.collegevine.com/fafsa-css-profile-idoc-oh-my-a-guide-to-financial-aid/ (overview of financial aid)
https://blog.collegevine.com/federal-work-study-what-you-need-to-know/ (overview of work-study)
https://blog.collegevine.com/?s=fafsa (a bunch of articles about different situations and aspects of the FAFSA)
https://profile.collegeboard.org/profile/ppi/participatingInstitutions.aspx (list of schools that use the CSS profile)
https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/ (CSS website)
To keep this community safe and supportive: