Should you fill out your FAFSA?


Students can apply for federal aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

October marks the beginning of pumpkin spice lattes, warm flannels and falling leaves. For students, it also signifies the opening of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA is a form that any current or prospective college student can complete to determine their eligibility for student financial aid. The FAFSA provides many students with the financial support they need to pursue an education, but it also has a reputation for being complex and long.

“Anybody who’s filled out a FAFSA will tell you that it is not the easiest thing to do,” Isaac Ehlers, assistant director for student financial success, said. “For people who can’t use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool…there are like 100 or so questions, and they have to go through all of their tax documents.”

The FAFSA requires many documents that belong to parents and guardians, which means students often have to coordinate with their family to complete the form. For first-generation students, this can add an extra layer of difficulty.

“Their parents never went to college, and they never had to fill out a FAFSA, so they don’t understand the process and what the purpose of the FAFSA is in terms of what students can get from it,” Ehlers said.

Students who do complete their FAFSA see it as a helpful tool in completing their education.

“[Receiving grants] relieves a lot of stress,” Vanessa Reyes-Soriano, a freshman studying marketing, said. “I don’t have to worry about paying for college or getting a job during the school year.”

However, other students purposefully avoid the FAFSA because their family’s income does not make them eligible for federal pell grants.

“I know that I’m not going to get any money from [the FAFSA], and I don’t have any loans either,” Sarah Ebert, a senior studying electrical engineering, said. “Most of my tuition is funded by merit scholarships.”

Ehlers recommends all students complete their FAFSA, even if they know they will only receive loans they do not plan on utilizing. The FAFSA is specific to federal aid, but many colleges, including Iowa State, use the FAFSA to delegate institutional aid.

Families who receive a student loan offer can also use their offer as a safety net for any potential financial emergencies.

“If your family has some financial struggle sometime during the school year and you maybe need that loan, it’s already there for you instead of you having to go start that process,” Ehlers said.

Iowa State also offers scholarships that require students to fill out their FAFSA to apply.

The FAFSA application opened Oct. 1 and will close June 30, 2024, but Iowa State’s priority deadline is Jan. 3, 2023. Ehlers recommends students complete their FAFSA before Jan. 3 to ensure they receive as much aid as possible. After this deadline, students will be eligible for federal aid and grants but will not qualify for many of Iowa State’s financial aid programs.

Students who need help with their FAFSA can schedule an appointment with the Financial Aid Office through Navigate Student or by calling 515-294-2223.

“We understand that the FAFSA is not the most simple process,” Ehlers said. “It can be very complex, but we want students to get access to the financial aid that they need.”