Rising high school seniors, get ready! After October 1 you’ll probably be asked an important question repeatedly throughout the school year: “Have you completed your FAFSA yet?” Hopefully after you read this, you can answer that question with a confident “Yes!”

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the key you need to unlock money that will help you pay for college, career technology center, or vocational school after you graduate from high school. It’s simply a ‘snapshot’ of a family’s financial situation, and it’s used to determine how much federal and state financial aid a student may be eligible to receive.

Sometimes there can be misconceptions about the purpose of the FAFSA, so it’s important to know that the FAFSA is not an application to college, a loan application or any type of commitment to accept the aid you’re offered. It’s not a credit check, and it’s not available only to students with the best grades; the application won’t even ask about your grade point average (GPA). Furthermore, it’s not a one-time thing. You’ll need to complete a FAFSA each year you want to apply for financial aid for college.

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. For high school seniors, this means the 2023-24 FAFSA will be ready for you to submit this October – almost a year before you begin college. Don’t sweat it if you haven’t picked a college yet. One great thing about the FAFSA is that you can have your information sent to up to 10 different institutions.

Even though your FAFSA won’t be ready until October, you may want to consider reviewing theFAFSA on the Web (FOTW) Worksheet. It lists most of the questions from the current FAFSA, letting you know what it will be like to complete the form online. Please keep in mind that the FOTW worksheet is NOT an official FAFSA. You’ll still need to complete the actual form online after October 1 in order to apply for financial aid.

According to the National College Attainment Network, billions of dollars in federal financial aid for college is left unclaimed each year by students who would have been qualified to receive the aid, but simply didn’t submit a FAFSA. You’ll never know what you’re eligible to receive unless you submit the application.

For more information about the FAFSA and the types of financial aid that are available, visit StudentAid.gov.