If you’re talking about financial aid, chances are you’re reeling thinking about the FAFSA application. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA, is the application hosted by the U.S. government for college students to apply for financial aid to attend school.

A student will be able to determine whether they are eligible for two major types of financial aid by completing the FAFSA application: the federal Pell Grant, which is a free grant, as well as the two federal loans, the direct subsidized and direct unsubsidized loans. Students can determine their eligibility by inputting their financial information into the application.

Many colleges accept federal financial aid to pay for tuition and other expenses, but students should do their homework before enrolling. Below you will find information about which colleges accept federal student aid and how you can determine which programs qualify.

Which Online Colleges Accept Federal Student Aid?

Before you commit to a college, it’s important to determine whether the school or program accepts federal financial aid and is affiliated with the FAFSA application. For the most part, colleges that hold a regional accreditation accept federal funds from the FAFSA application, while schools with a nationwide accreditation do not. This information can usually be found on a school’s website or with a quick google search, but when in doubt, it is best to reach out to the school’s admissions or financial aid department for confirmation.

Generally, the best colleges maintain active accreditations for each of their programs, and that information can be readily found on the school website on each of the program’s individual pages. Students interested in obtaining specific accreditation for their degree or in learning what accreditation programs are offered by each school may consult the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, also known as the DAPIP. The federal government updates and monitors this database regularly to ensure it contains the most current information.

For any questions or more information about federal financial aid applications and whether an interested college is eligible for federal student aid, students can visit the college search database through the student aid website.

How to Fill Out and Submit Your FAFSA

Ready to complete your FAFSA application? Here are the steps you need to take.

  1. Collect all necessary documents. For the 2023-2024 FAFSA application, students should use federal tax returns and records from 2021. The documents you will need to complete the FAFSA include, but are not limited to:
    1. The social security numbers of the student and the parent
    2. The entire tax return for the correct year of the student (if they have one) and the parent
    3. The student’s driver’s license number (if they have one)
    4. A record of any untaxed income
    5. A record of any assets of the student or parent
    6. Documentation of any government assistance, such as SNAP, WIC, SSI, or other assistance programs
    7. A list of colleges that the student is applying to
  2. Create an FSA ID. When visiting the website for the FAFSA, both the student and one of the child’s parents need to create an FSA ID. This is a username and password used to log into the application portal for future use. It is crucial that both parties write down the username, password, backup code, and answers to the security questions before moving on to the actual application.
  3. Complete the FAFSA application. This will require students to submit both demographic and financial information in order to be completed.

Here are a few tips for your FAFSA. First, the FAFSA application currently restricts students to adding ten colleges at a time to the application. Any students who have applied to more than ten colleges can always adjust the college list in the application after it has been completely processed, which usually takes about a week. Students can also use the Aid Estimator tool to get a glimpse of their estimated family contribution and how much federal aid they may be offered.

Additionally, it is highly suggested to take a few extra steps when completing your FAFSA application, as schools may require these documents. Downloading a copy of the SAR (student aid report) may be helpful if your FAFSA is flagged for verification. We also suggest that students have a digital copy of their tax return, as colleges may require additional information or a full copy of the transcript to determine a student’s financial aid package.

Next Steps

Once the FAFSA is submitted, some steps can be taken to ensure students can afford their education.

First, check with your state to see if there are state-specific scholarships or grants to apply for to cover some of the costs. Examples include the NYS TAP, the Texas TAFSA, and the CalGrant in California. While not all colleges accept these grants, students attending in-state programs online may be able to use these funds to cover some of their tuition costs.

After completing the FAFSA, students can determine how much out of pocket they will need to pay to attend different colleges. If that gap is significant, scholarships are the next logical step. Before searching through hundreds of outside scholarships from companies and organizations to find the best fit, check the college’s financial aid page to see if there are any scholarships where the student meets the qualification.

Lastly, work with the school of choice to ensure everything is submitted, and no other documents are required to enroll. Once the funding pulls through, it’s time to prepare for the next adventure of acquiring an online degree!

Interested in a degree instead?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.