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Welcome to LEAP Tampa Bay’s comprehensive guide to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Whether aspiring for a degree or a certificate program, the FAFSA is your critical first step.

The FAFSA is a FREE form the federal government provides to determine your eligibility for various types of student financial aid, including federal grants, work-study programs, state aid, and loans. Schools also use FAFSA data to offer their own financial aid packages. Remember, the FAFSA isn’t just for those who think they’ll qualify for aid; about $300 million in potential financial aid goes unclaimed every year in Florida alone because students fail to complete their FAFSA.

The FAFSA is undergoing significant changes. The most significant is that the application period starts in December this year; however, this is a one-time change.  The FAFSA Simplification Act aims to streamline the application process, cutting the number of questions to 46 and potentially increasing most students’ financial aid. The maximum Pell Grant in previous years was $7,400; don’t miss out on free money. The familiar term EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is also being replaced by the Student Aid Index (SAI), aiming for greater clarity in financial aid decisions.

For more information, visit our FAQ section.

Step-by-step Guide

Here are a few reputable websites that provide comprehensive guides on how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):

Federal Student Aid - FAFSA Guide: This is the official guide the U.S. Department of Education provides. It includes step-by-step instructions and a wealth of other resources.

BigFuture by CollegeBoard: Known for its college planning resources, CollegeBoard provides a user-friendly FAFSA guide.

Maintaining Financial Aid Eligibility

Keeping your financial aid requires you to stay on top of a few things. Here’s a simple rundown:

Reapply Annually: Filling out FAFSA isn’t a one-time thing. You have to reapply each year to remain eligible.

Make the Grades: Keep up your grades! Different schools have different rules, but you need to pass your classes and maintain a minimum GPA. This is called Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP).

Stay Enrolled: Dropping below half-time enrollment can affect your financial aid. Understand the rules before making changes to your course load.

These steps can help you keep your aid year after year. If you have questions or run into issues, remember that we’re here to help!

Understanding Aid Results:

After submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll receive the Student Aid Report (SAR) document. Here’s a quick guide on how to interpret your SAR:

Review for Accuracy: First, check all your personal information for any errors. If you find any, correct them immediately.

Check Your Student Aid Index (SAI): This figure, found in the upper right corner of the SAR, is used by colleges to calculate your financial aid package.

Decipher Aid Types: Your SAR doesn't guarantee a specific amount of aid, but it opens the door for several types:

Grants: Free money that doesn't need to be paid back, like the Pell Grant.

Loans: Borrowed money that you'll need to pay back with interest, like Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans

Work-study: A program that lets you work part-time while studying, earning money to help pay for school.

Remember, this is just a guide. Your actual aid package may vary depending on the college’s policies and available funding.

Success Stories


FAFSA Form and Application Process
You can begin filing your FAFSA for the 2024-2025 academic year in December 2023.

The federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is June 30, 2025. However, each state and school may have its own deadline, which could be earlier, so it’s important to check those dates and apply as soon as possible.

To check the status of your FAFSA form, log in to the online FAFSA home page and find your application status on the “My FAFSA” page. If you submit a paper FAFSA form, you can check the status of your application after it has been processed.

An FSA ID is a username and password that gives you access to Federal Student Aid’s online systems and serves as your legal signature. It’s used to log into various U.S. Department of Education websites, including the FAFSA form.

A Contributor refers to anyone who is required to provide information on a student’s FAFSA form. This can include the student, the student’s spouse, a biological or adopted parent, or the parent’s spouse.  Being a Contributor does not imply any financial responsibility for the student’s college costs. It only means you may be required to provide specific information to complete the FAFSA form.

FAFSA Simplification Act and Form Changes

The FAFSA Simplification Act significantly overhauls the processes and systems used to award federal student aid, including the FAFSA form, need analysis, and many policies and procedures. It affects every state that uses FAFSA data to award state grant aid and every school participating in federal student aid programs.

The FAFSA Simplification Act streamlines the FAFSA form, uses data received directly from the IRS to calculate Federal Pell Grant eligibility and the SAI, and removes questions about Selective Service registration and drug convictions.

The SAI is the new measure of a family’s ability to pay for college, replacing the EFC. The new need analysis formula allows a minimum SAI of -1500 and implements separate eligibility determination criteria for Federal Pell Grants.

Eligibility and Financial Circumstances

To be eligible for FAFSA, you must demonstrate financial need for need-based federal student aid programs, be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen, have a valid Social Security number, be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program, be enrolled at least half-time to be eligible for Direct Loan Program funds, maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school, sign the certification statement on the FAFSA form, and show you’re qualified to obtain a college or career school education.

Yes, if you’re a dependent student, your parents will need to provide their information and sign your FAFSA form. Parents will need most of the same information that the student needs, including their Social Security number, federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned.

If your financial situation changes significantly after you’ve submitted your FAFSA, such as a loss of employment, you should contact the financial aid office at your school. They have the authority to assess your situation and potentially adjust your financial aid.

Learning More About FAFSA

For more detailed information, visit the official FAFSA page at

Remember, these are general questions and answers. Always check with local resources or the official FAFSA website for the most accurate and current information.

Upcoming Workshops or Webinars:

FAFSA Completion Nights-Hillsborough


FAFSA Completion Nights – Pinellas


Students: Time at home can help further your education & training plans