How Does the FAFSA Work When Attending Community College?

Written by: Matt Kuncaitis
Updated: 7/14/21

The cost of higher education is only increasing, whether you plan to attend a community college, a private university or a public institution. In 2020, the average yearly cost of attending community college was $10,300, which is an amount many students can’t afford to pay at once. Fortunately, there are various programs available to help parents and students pay for college. 

However, most of these programs are dependent on you completing and submitting the FAFSA. Keep reading to find out what the FAFSA is, how it works, who it’s for and how it applies to community college students. 

What Is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s an application form that you need to fill out to qualify for federal financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education to help pay for college. The federal government uses information from your FAFSA to determine your eligibility based on financial need. This is why you have to disclose your family’s finances and federal tax return information on your application. 

In addition, states and colleges use the FAFSA to evaluate your eligibility for their own grants, scholarships, and loans and for how much. So, even if you think you aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, you should still complete the form. There are many ways you can complete the FAFSA, including:

  • Filling it out online through the Federal Student Aid website
  • Picking up a paper version of the form from the financial aid office at your school 
  • Filling out the FAFSA form on the myStudentAid app

If you get confused on how to fill the FAFSA, there are resources, such as the FAFSA Process graphic, to walk you through the process of preparing for, completing and submitting the form. In addition, you can email or chat with live technical support staff through the “Contact Us” button on the online application form. Or you can ask for help from the financial aid office at your school. also has resources like this article to help you complete your FAFSA form.

You’ll need to disclose personal and financial information on the FAFSA. So, you might need the following documents as you fill out the application:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your driver’s license number, if you have one
  • Your Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Your federal tax information or tax returns, including W-2 information and your spouse’s, if you are married
  • Records of your untaxed income (e.g., child support, interest income and veterans noneducation benefits)
  • Information on cash, savings and checking account balances
  • Investments in stocks, bonds and real estate (not including the home in which you live), and any business and farm assets 

If you are a dependent student, you need the following information from your parents:

  • Social Security numbers
  • Federal tax information or tax returns, including W-2 information
  • Records of untaxed income (e.g., interest income, veterans noneducation benefits and child support)
  • Information on cash, savings and checking account balances
  • Investments in stocks, bonds and real estate (not including their principal home), and any business or farm assets 

If there’s a significant change in your family’s financial situation not reflected on the tax returns, complete the FAFSA as instructed. Contact the school you plan to attend to have your financial aid adjusted. 

Who Is the FAFSA For?

The FAFSA should be completed by anyone who’s planning to go to college in the next academic year. Remember, the application doesn’t carry over year after year. So, you must fill one out for each school year you’re planning to attend. 

For the school year 2021-2022, applications opened up on Oct. 1, 2020. However, it’s a good idea to apply as soon as possible because financial aid is often given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

But if you can’t, then make sure you’re aware of the following dates when submitting your application: 

  • School deadline: Check if the college you’re planning to attend has set an earlier deadline than the state or federal last day of submission. Clarify their definition of a deadline. Does it mean your application must be received or processed by the due date?
  • State deadline:Find your state’s deadline here
  • Federal deadline: For the school year 2020–2021, FAFSA forms must be submitted by June 30, 2021. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by Sept. 11, 2021. For the school year 2021-2022, the last day of submission is June 30, 2022. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by Sept. 10, 2022.

Why Students Should Take Advantage of the FAFSA

You should take advantage of the FAFSA even if you think you don’t qualify for financial assistance because it’s also used to assess your eligibility for low-interest loans and grants not based on need. In addition, schools and states have different criteria for the aid programs they administer that may apply to you. The FAFSA form is free; you shouldn’t disqualify yourself from its benefits for failing to apply.

Aside from financial assistance, here are more benefits of completing the FAFSA:

  • You automatically qualify for federal student loans that have lower interest rates compared to many private student loans. This means you’ll be saving money when you start paying back loans. And if you have federal student loans, you may qualify for a loan forgiveness program. 
  • You can be considered to receive the Federal Pell Grant.
  • Many state agencies and colleges use the FAFSA to evaluate students for award grants and scholarships.
  • The Federal Work-Study program and many college work-study programs require the FAFSA.
  • Merit-based scholarships also require the FAFSA to determine scholarship amounts. 
  • Many financial aid programs require students to file the FAFSA to be eligible for any institutional scholarships or grants.

How FAFSA Works for Community Colleges

There’s a wide belief that students who attend community colleges don’t qualify for financial assistance since the tuition costs in these institutions are lower. However, tuition fees aren’t the only cost of education. It also includes expenses like board and lodging, meals, books and transportation, which can quickly add up and become costly. 

So, regardless of the institution you’re planning to attend, make sure you complete and submit the FAFSA. This applies whether you’re going to be a part-time or full-time student taking a two-year or four-year course. As mentioned, the FAFSA opens the door for a variety of financial aid that might be available to you, such as loans, grants, scholarships and work-study programs.

To learn more about specific programs you can apply for, reach out to the community college financial aid office. You can also search for scholarships and look for grants specific to community college students. But remember to complete and submit the required documents on time. 

Here are a few types of financial aid available to community colleges through the FAFSA:

  • Direct Loans: Direct Subsidized Loans are available to community college students with financial need, while Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available regardless of finances. Federal student loans have more favorable rates and repayment terms than private student loans.
  • Federal Pell Grants: The Federal Pell Grant awards vary each school year as Congress decides it. Eligibility depends on financial need, and disbursements are based on credit hours for classes in approved programs of studies.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG): Awards from the FSEOG program are based on financial need and academic promise. Eligibility is assessed by each participating school’s financial aid office. 
  • Parent PLUS Loans: Parent PLUS Loans are available to parents to borrow money for their children’s college costs. Borrowers must pass a credit check to qualify. It’s worth noting that most parents take PLUS loans in favor of private student loans because the interest rates are generally lower. 
  • State programs: Contact the financial aid office of your school to find out about state grants. For example, North Carolina has the North Carolina Community College Grant (NCCCG). It’s a need-based financial assistance available to community college students who are residents of the state.   

Learn More About Financial Aid at

The cost of a college education is high, and it’s only getting higher every year. Make sure you research the various programs that can help you pay for community college. Completing and submitting your FAFSA form is a great start. 

Feel free to explore the resources and guides provided at to help you prepare and get started on your FAFSA application. Our mission is to help you get the most out of your college experience by helping you make informed financial decisions.