FAFSA Guide

Criminal justice degrees can get expensive, which is why many students seek financial assistance by applying for scholarships, grants, or student loans. The first step to securing any type of financial aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form qualifies students for state and federal financial aid through grants, loans, or work-study programs.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), which handles federal financial aid, is invested in giving every American access to college by helping them pay for it.

Federal aid is available for students in all programs at all degree levels. Not all students can demonstrate financial need, but everyone can apply for aid. The U.S. Department of Education (ED), which handles federal financial aid, is invested in giving every American access to college by helping them pay for it. States also have their own departments of education that provide financial aid to students, and these state departments rely on FAFSA information to determine awards. Colleges also make use of the FAFSA to determine whether students qualify for additional aid.

This guide will help you get started on the FAFSA process by answering some common questions about the application and the types of aid available.

How to Get Financial Aid in Criminal Justice

There are four kinds of financial aid available through the FAFSA. Scholarships are gifts of money awarded to students who fulfill certain qualifications, such as specific tribe membership, a chosen area of study, or performance standards. Grants come from funds maintained by federal or state governments and do not have to be repaid, while loans are issued by the government or private lenders and must be paid back. Finally, work-study programs place students in jobs to help them pay for their education.

Students may submit the FAFSA annually, and each year the government determines financial need by subtracting students' expected family contribution (EFC) from their cost of attendance (COA). EFC is how much your family can reasonably be expected to pay for college, while COA is how much your education is projected to cost overall. Subtracting EFC from COA shows how much need-based aid you may qualify for.

FAFSA funding is intended to cover tuition, supplies, and cost of living.

Grants provided by the FAFSA are often small and awarded to many people. They do not normally have to be repaid, with a few exceptions. Loans are usually much larger, sometimes large enough to cover the entire cost of attendance, but these must be repaid with interest over time.

FAFSA funding is intended to cover tuition, supplies, and cost of living. Once your financial aid is disbursed to your school to pay for tuition, the remainder will go to you, which you can spend as necessary. As long as you keep attending school at least half time, and continue to demonstrate financial need, you'll qualify for FAFSA aid each year.

FAFSA eligibility requires a high school diploma or GED, enrollment in or acceptance to a degree-granting program, and a Social Security number. Applicants cannot be in default on a federal loan, and they must be U.S. citizens, be U.S. nationals, or qualify under one of several categories for immigrants or refugees. If you're a male U.S. citizen, you must also have registered for the Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 25. Once you have received your FAFSA aid, you must maintain at least half-time enrollment and make academic progress toward a degree to remain qualified for your aid.

When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

The FAFSA becomes available every year on October 1. Take your time in completing the application to make sure your provided details are accurate. Applicants must provide tax returns and other proof of income, so have that documentation ready. Since aid is based on financial need, try to apply when you demonstrate the most need. This can help you get more money from grants or from loans with lower interest rates, which makes paying for college that much easier.

What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?

The first step in filing your FAFSA is getting federal student aid (FSA) ID, which acts as your signature and allows you to access information about your FAFSA. All students seeking aid need an FSA, as do the parents of dependent students. When completing your FAFSA, be ready to provide your Social Security or Alien Registration number, driver's license or state ID number, tax records, and records of untaxed income and assets. If you are a dependent, your parents will also need to provide this information to help determine EFC. You will also need to supply a list of schools that have accepted you, so federal offices can communicate your FAFSA information to the schools' financial aid offices.

Filling Out Your FAFSA

It's recommended to file the FAFSA online, but you may also print and mail a PDF of the application, or obtain a paper application to complete and return by mail. The online FAFSA is the fastest and easiest way to submit the FAFSA.

The online FAFSA is the fastest and easiest way to submit the FAFSA.

FAFSA information is divided into several categories. Student information focuses on personal student data, such as their citizenship status and degree of interest. Students must answer questions about their ability to contribute financially to their own education. Applicants who are dependents must also provide their parents' information, to determine how much the parents can contribute to their child's education expenses. Finally, the student household information section asks about students' living situations, which may impact aid results.

Once you answer all the questions, you must agree to a certifying statement, which states that you are eligible for the FAFSA and have filed the form in good faith.

Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA

  • Apply Online

    The online FAFSA form is processed faster than forms submitted by mail. It is also faster to complete because it skips questions that you don't need to answer, based on earlier responses.

  • Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

    This tool allows you to link your FAFSA and IRS data, so your IRS information can transfer digitally to the FAFSA. This is faster than transferring the information yourself, and ensures better accuracy.

  • List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order

    Some states require schools be listed in a specific order to qualify for state-based aid, with some awarding aid only to your first-choice school.

  • Fill Out Every Field of the Form

    If the online FAFSA presents a field asking for information, provide that information. If filing with a paper copy, provide everything asked for to avoid missing anything.

  • Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances

    If you have a lot in savings but are currently unemployed or have some other special circumstances, provide an explanatory letter for more insight into your financial position.

How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?

When it is time to submit your FAFSA, you will have to provide a signature, either electronically or by printing, signing, and mailing the signature page. If you complete this step online, you will see a confirmation page showing that you have submitted the FAFSA. You can print your application for your records.

Student Aid Report

After your FAFSA is submitted and reviewed, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR shows how you answered your FAFSA questions, and displays your EFC, if the FAFSA is complete. It also gives you the opportunity to review your FAFSA and make sure everything is in order. You may provide additional information at this point if your FAFSA was not complete. If you find any mistakes, you can update your FAFSA online. Your SAR is also provided to the schools you indicated in your FAFSA, and these institutions may contact you with questions or to verify submitted information.

How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?

Aid offers will come from the school or schools to which you've been accepted, and each offer comes with instructions on how to accept aid. You do not have to accept every aid offer you receive, and you may not have to accept the full amount offered either. Your school's financial aid office will be able to answer any questions not answered in your aid offers.

What's the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?

The federal deadline is June 30, but some states implement their own deadlines for students to qualify for state-based aid. When in doubt, ask your financial aid counselor.

Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?

FAFSA does not take grades into consideration, but students are expected to make satisfactory academic progress after receiving financial aid.

Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?

There is no maximum age for someone to receive aid. While there is no specific minimum age, you need to have either a high school diploma or GED.

Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?

A high EFC can prevent you from receiving certain grants, but it will not disqualify you from completing the FAFSA or qualifying for student loans.

Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?

Your parents' citizenship is not factored into the FAFSA, but if you are a dependent, your parents will need to list their Social Security numbers (if possible).

How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?

Provided you have the information on hand, or you link your FAFSA to your IRS information, it can take as little as 30 minutes to complete.

Can You File Your FAFSA Before You've Applied to Any Schools?

You can, but you have to list at least one school you intend to apply to in order to complete the FAFSA.

Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?

The official FAFSA information website should answer your questions, but you can also check with your school's financial aid office for additional help.