Is the FAFSA a Loan?

Q: Is the FAFSA a loan? Do I have to accept a student loan if I complete the FAFSA.

A: No, the FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is not a loan. But it is a federal application that will determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid programs.

After you complete the FAFSA, you may discover that you are eligible for scholarships, grants, work-study, and student loans.

All student loans must be repaid with interest. But keep in mind that you DO NOT have to accept any student loans that are offered. If you only want to accept free aid, you can choose to accept only the scholarships, grants, and work-study being offered.

Why should I fill out a FAFSA?
The FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the first step in the financial aid process. You use it to apply for federal student financial aid, such as grants, loans and work-study. In addition, most states and schools use information from the FAFSA to award non-federal aid. You can complete the FAFSA entirely online at

Why are there so many FAFSA questions?
The Department of Education enters your responses to the FAFSA questions into a formula. The result is your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. The EFC measures the financial strength of your family. It is used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. Your state, and the schools you list, may also use some of your responses. They will determine if you may be eligible for school or state aid, in addition to federal aid.

How do I find out what my EFC is?
The Department of Education will send you a report called a Student Aid Report, or SAR, through the mail or the Internet. The SAR lists the information you reported on your FAFSA, and will tell you your EFC. It is important to review your SAR when you receive it. Make sure all of your information is correct. Make any necessary changes or provide additional information.

How much financial aid do I get?
Your EFC, along with the rest of your FAFSA information, is made available to all the schools you list in Step Six of the FAFSA. The schools use your EFC to prepare a financial aid package to help you meet your financial need. Financial need is the difference between your EFC and your school cost of attendance (which can include living expenses), as determined by the school.

If you or your family has special circumstances that should be taken into account, contact your financial aid office. Some examples of special circumstances are: unusual medical or dental expenses, or a large change in income from last year to this year.

When do I get the financial aid?
Any financial aid you are eligible to receive will be paid to you through your school. Typically, your school will first use the aid to pay tuition, fees, and room and board (if provided by the school). Any remaining aid is paid to you for your other expenses.

If you are eligible for a Federal Pell Grant, you may receive it for only one school for the same period of enrollment.

Where can I get more information on financial aid?
The best place for information about student financial aid is the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend. The financial aid administrator can tell you about student aid available from your state, the school itself and other sources.

You can also check out these resources:
The Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID
(1-800-433-3243). TTY users may call 1-800-730-8913.
Your high school counselor office
Your local library reference section

There may be information available from foundations, religious organizations, community organizations and civic groups, as well as organizations related to your field of interest, such as the American Medical Association or American Bar Association. Check with your parent employer or unions to see if they award scholarships or have tuition payment plans.

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