In most cases, you will need to re-apply for federal student aid each year you are in school. But does that mean completing a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) per semester or just once per year?
The fast answer: once per year. But as with most fast answers, there are some exceptions. Let's dig a little deeper.
Because your or your family’s financial information can change from year to year, your eligibility for federal, state, or institutional financial aid can change as well. You may qualify for more or less money than you did last year.
But even if nothing has changed in your financial situation, you still need to fill out a new FAFSA every year, or you won't qualify for financial aid at all.
FAFSA is generally good for one full academic year, beginning in the fall. However, it's important to check when the FAFSA is due because deadlines can change.
See also: How Long Does FAFSA Last?
FAFSA renewal or start a new FAFSA?
Filling out the FAFSA should be a little easier the second (or third or fourth) time around.
While you still need to provide up-to-date financial information, the FAFSA website doesn't make you start from scratch. Instead, it lets you submit a Renewal FAFSA that already includes your basic demographic information — the stuff that isn't likely to change each year. But if any of this information has changed, the Renewal FAFSA gives you the opportunity to update it.
How often do you get money from FAFSA?
If your FAFSA qualifies you for federal grants or loans, that money is disbursed directly to your school. Your school will notify you each time money is disbursed to cover expenses, typically twice a year.
With grants or loans, your school will apply that money toward your tuition, fees and (if you live on campus) room and board. Any money that is left over will be paid to you to use for other expenses associated with school. You may be able to choose how that money is paid to you: via check, cash, a credit to your bank account or a prepaid debit card.
Remember than any federal loan money will need to be paid back with interest. If you end up with more funds than you really need, it's smart to put them toward your loans immediately. It can save you money on loan interest in the long run.
If you qualify for a work-study program, your school will pay you directly (usually weekly or every other week) unless you request that money be applied to your student account.
First things first
If you’ve been approved for a grant or loan and have already filled out your FAFSA, you’re probably a pro at this process.
If not, get the information to do it right by checking out our Step-by-Step Guide to the FAFSA Questions. Get started by learning all you need to know to get the money you need for school.