Should you bother to fill out the FAFSA?

By Lee Shulman Bierer, College Admissions Strategies – Founder

Fill out the FAFSA? In a word. Yes.

Many middle-class families have convinced themselves that filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, isn’t worth the effort because they have heard that only students from families earning less than about $50,000 get federal grants. To apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, work-study, and loans, you need to complete the FAFSA. Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school.

Some of the most generous private colleges award need-based aid to students whose families earn more than $200,000 a year. That means that a great number of families find themselves on the bubble, somewhere in the that gray middle zone, wondering if they should invest the time. The FAFSA isn’t that daunting, honestly gathering your materials to complete it is likely to take more time than it does to fill out the form. But, the payoff, in financial aid rewards, could make a significant difference over the next four years.

Here are a few reasons that even the wealthiest families should fill out the FAFSA:

  1. Need is a relative concept:  Even affluent families can be “needy” when college costs $80,000 a year.
  2. Scholarships: some colleges, state agencies, and scholarship foundations require the FAFSA to award scholarships and grants to middle and upper-middle-class students attending expensive schools.
  3. Other aid opportunities: Some financial aid programs require a FAFSA even though they award aid without regard to family income. Some colleges also use FAFSA information as a deciding factor for students who are on the borderline for merit scholarships.

The official FAFSA form ( will be made available on October 1. Since funds are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, even those families who don’t anticipate receiving aid are encouraged to complete the forms as early as possible.


Will I be eligible to receive financial aid?

To be eligible to receive federal student aid, you must:

  • be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen;
  • have a valid Social Security number (with the exception of students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau);
  • be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program;
  • maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school;
  • sign the certification statement on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form stating that
    • you are not in default on a federal student loan,
    • you do not owe money on a federal student grant, and
    • you will use federal student aid only for educational purposes; and
  • show you’re qualified to obtain a college or career school education by
    • having a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate;
    • completing a high school education in a homeschool setting approved under state law; or
    • enrolling in an eligible career pathway program and meeting one of the “ability-to-benefit” alternatives.

What will I need to fill out the FAFSA?

To complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), you will need:

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
  • An FSA ID to sign electronically.


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;