Think the FAFSA is just for traditional students? If you're an adult in an online degree program, here are four reasons why you should apply.

By Amanda Black,
Associate Director of Communication and Financial Literacy

Are you an adult taking online courses to earn a college degree? 

Then be sure to file the FAFSA. It's the first and most important step toward obtaining financial assistance to help pay for school.

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form is administered by the U.S Department of Education and is used to determine your eligibility for federal grants, loans, and other non-federal funding.

You do not need to be a traditional college student or in a particular age group to receive financial aid – adult learners and students who are restarting their college careers online are eligible for aid, too.

Below are four compelling reasons why you should complete the FAFSA today.

1.  It's free!

If someone handed you a free scratch-off lottery ticket, you would give it a try, wouldn't you? It's the same with the FAFSA. It's a free shot at money and low interest rate loans, and it doesn't cost a cent. Taking a pass on the FAFSA is akin to refusing that free lottery ticket. How can you turn down a chance like that?

2. It's the only way to obtain inexpensive student loans with the most flexible repayment options

Doubt you'll be eligible for federal financial aid? As an American citizen (or eligible non-citizen), you are entitled to borrow from the federal government. (For details on borrowing and full eligibility requirements, visit the Federal Student Aid webpage about loans.) Direct unsubsidized loans are not based on financial need, so borrowers are not required to prove financial hardship to receive them. No other lending institution provides students with the low interest rate the federal government offers, nor the myriad of humane repayment options it administers. Taking out a school loan from the government is the least expensive, easiest, and safest way to borrow funds for higher education. Always explore this option first before considering others, such as private lenders and banks.

3. It's easy

Since you were able to successfully navigate the college application process, you shouldn't have any problem completing the FAFSA. Even if you struggle with math and dread answering tax-related questions, the process is relatively painless. Just be sure to take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that is available on the FAFSA website. This tool enables you to pull your IRS tax return data directly from the IRS website and instantly drop it into your FAFSA. No hunting for old tax forms or searching for paperwork required. Using this tool makes the process easy and convenient. It also helps you avoid mistakes and file accurate information.

4. It's quick

Filing the FAFSA online doesn't take long – for most people, less than 30 minutes. While students' individual living situations and assets vary and can affect the information required, the FAFSA form has built-in logic. This makes the application fairly intuitive, helping you avoid unnecessary questions. Also, if you need to take a break from completing the FAFSA, it's easy to save your application and pick up later where you left off.

Important reminders about filing

If you had your doubts about completing the FAFSA or have been procrastinating, I hope you have been convinced otherwise. The FAFSA has the potential to unlock thousands of dollars in free grants and inexpensive federal loans for you – making your educational dreams easier to attain.


  • File online (at and use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

  • If you are attending school during the current 2016-2017 academic year, the time to file is now.

  • If you are attending school next year, you will be able to complete your 2017-2018 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016.

  • The sooner you file, the sooner you will know what funds are available to help pay for school.

If you have questions about completing the FAFSA, visit the Federal Student Aid Resources webpage. This website has numerous guides, videos, and graphics to help you understand the FAFSA and other financial aid topics.

A Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, Amanda Black is passionate about promoting financial literacy and helping student loan borrowers responsibly manage their debt. When she is not at work, Amanda enjoys jogging, sharing a glass of wine with friends, and traveling with her husband. You can reach her in the Financial Aid Office at 800.240.7658 or

Image credit: karen roach on Shutterstock