Financial Aid for Community College: What is FAFSA?

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

FAFSA is the form that students love to hate. It's a necessary first step in the process of applying for almost any type of financial assistance.

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you want to apply for any type of federal student aid"grants, loans, or work-study"you must complete this form. Most states and many colleges also require or use this form for their non-federal financial aid programs. So by completing FAFSA, you have a triple advantage because you can apply for three levels of assistance: federal, state, and college.

FAFSA is important because the financial information that you supply will help determine the amount of money that you (or your family) will be expected to contribute to your college costs that year (Expected Family Contribution).

The difference between the Cost of Attendance (a standard amount determined by rules established by law, which may differ from your actual expenses) and the Expected Family Contribution equals your financial need.

This information from your FAFSA form will be used by the college to calculate your financial aid package, the combination of financial aid resources"grants, loans, work-study, scholarships"that the college financial aid office puts together to meet your individual needs as closely as possible.

The FASFA form is available in print from your high school counselor, the community college financial aid office, or from the federal government. It is also available free online via most college Web sites and from If you want to send your FAFSA form electronically, you can download FAFSA Express software to your computer.

You can also do a test run of FAFSA on the Web by going to and then to the FAFSA demonstration site. This is a good idea, as you will get a preview of the documentation that you (and your parents) will need to complete the form, such as annual tax return, earnings records, Social Security numbers, and so on, and of the amount of time you'll need to fill in the form.

It doesn't cost you anything but time (and some aggravation) to make the FAFSA application. Help in completing the form is available from your high school, the college financial aid office (which often has workshops for parents and students, sometimes at your local high school), and as well as online at

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