For a student looking for free federal financial aid options—meaning no pay-back is required—there’s only one application needed: the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the only way to apply for federal financial aid, Pell Grants included.
A Federal Pell Grant is free money awarded to students on a financial-need basis for college. Typically awarded to low-income undergraduate students, the Federal Pell Grant funds can be used for tuition, fees, room and board, transportation, books and more.
To determine eligibility and the amount of financial aid awarded, the FAFSA will evaluate a student and/or his or her family’s financial situation.
There are several ways to apply and submit the FAFSA:
- Printed and mailed in. Download the PDF version of the FAFSA here. Mail the original copy to Federal Student Aid Programs, P.O. Box 7002, Mt. Vernon, IL, 62864-0072.
- Or requested from a chosen college or career school
The FAFSA will ask around 100 questions for both parents and students to fill in. The questions will typically address tax filing statuses, income information, legal residence, educational plans and more. Social Security numbers, federal income tax returns, W-2s, records of untaxed income and bank statements are documents generally required to fill out the FAFSA application.
Additionally, the Federal Student Code of at least one college is needed. This is the school to which the student wants his or her FAFSA information being sent. Up to 10 colleges can be listed on the form. The Federal School Code Search is available to look up college codes.
Using the information provided, the FAFSA will then determine the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is a measurement of a family’s financial strength and determines the student’s ability to pay for college.
The students with the greatest need for financial aid have an EFC of 0, and as the EFC increases, the amount of the Federal Pell Grant award decreases.
Check Your Eligibility
The Financial Need, which will ultimately determine the award amount, is the difference between a school’s Cost of Attendance (COA) and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC and FAFSA information is sent to the selected colleges to determine a student’s full financial need and award amount. And because a school’s cost is taken into account, award amounts might vary from school to school.