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How to Complete the FAFSA

Last updated December 8, 2022

Need some đź’° to pay for college? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important, reliable way to get it! Here's everything you need to know to complete the FAFSA! 

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How to Complete the FAFSA

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is a free government form that college students fill out to be considered for financial aid (such as scholarships, grants, student loans, job opportunities, and more). You must complete the FAFSA once a year, the year before you go to college and each year you’re in college, to be eligible for any kind of aid.

When you submit your FAFSA, things like your family’s income, tax information, and financial assets will be taken into consideration. The federal government and your college then awards you a certain amount of financial aid based on that information. The amount of financial aid you can or will receive each year is subject to change based on changes in your family’s income or circumstances. Regardless of what financial changes occur for you or your family in any given year, you must complete FAFSA in order to receive financial aid for college.

How do I get started?

To begin filling out your FAFSA, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Click “I am a student and want to access the FAFSA form.” If you have never completed the FAFSA before, you will be prompted to create an FSA ID. You will need this ID in order to complete the FAFSA. To create your FSA ID, you will need your social security number, a reliable phone number, and your email address.

If you’re a dependent student (you live with your parents and rely on them for financial support such as food and housing), one or both of your parents will need to create their own FSA IDs, especially if you are including their personal or financial information on your FAFSA. (Read our complete guide for creating your FSA ID here.)

After your and your parents’ FSA IDs are created, you can begin filling out your FAFSA.

What do l need to fill out the FAFSA?

Here’s what you need to complete your FAFSA if you’re a dependent student:

  • Your FSA ID
  • Your social security number
  • Your parents’ social security numbers
  • Your driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • USCIS registration number for eligible non-citizens
  • Federal tax information, tax documents, or tax returns including IRS W-2 information for you and your parents
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student
  • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you and your parents
  • A list of colleges you intend to apply to (if you’re filling out the FAFSA for the first time). You do not have to be accepted to any of these colleges at the time you complete your FAFSA.

For most families and students, completing the FAFSA takes around 1 hour.

Source: studentaid.gov

What kind of financial aid can I receive by filling out the FAFSA?

  • Scholarships – Filling out the FAFSA is often one of the main requirements to be considered for institutional and state-wide need-based and merit scholarships.
  • Grants – You apply for federal grants like the Pell grant by filling out the FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA is also a requirement for many state grants.
  • Federal Student Loans – Federal student loans will always be the most low-interest and borrower-friendly option for students. The only way to get federal student loans is by filling out the FAFSA.

When can I start filling out my FAFSA?

The FAFSA is available every year starting October 1st. Complete it early and check it off your list. Some colleges and states award more financial aid the earlier you apply. Some states also run out of financial aid (first come, first served), so don't wait! Make sure to double-check the dates before you start filling out the form. You want the FAFSA labeled with the school year for which you need aid (not this current year).

What’s the deadline to complete my FAFSA?

Waiting until the last minute may end up costing you thousands of extra dollars, so you should complete your FAFSA early in your senior year. Some states award grants on a first-come, first-served basis and funds run out before everyone who is qualified gets funding. FAFSA deadlines vary by state and by college. Learn what your deadline is here and be sure to apply well before the deadline. The federal FAFSA deadline is June 30th annually.

My parent(s) are undocumented, but I am a citizen/resident. Can I still fill out the FAFSA and receive financial aid?

Yes! If you’re a dependent student living with parents who are undocumented, you can still fill out the FAFSA using your social security number. Your parents’ citizenship status does not affect your eligibility for federal aid.

In the part of the parent info section that asks for your parents social security number, enter all zeros (000-00-0000) where a social security number would normally go. If your parents don’t have social security numbers, they won’t be able to create FSA IDs and electronically sign your FAFSA, so you will need to print your FAFSA's signature page out and have them manually sign it before mailing it to FAFSA’s headquarters. Don't have a printer at home? Print it at your school - try using the library or asking a teacher for help. We know this is an extra step in completing the FAFSA, but don’t let it get in your way of receiving federal financial aid!

I am undocumented. Can I complete the FAFSA?

Unfortunately, the FAFSA is only available to those with residence or citizenship in the U.S. If you are not in a position to complete the FAFSA due to immigration/citizenship status, a situation with your family, or anything else, you still can receive financial aid! The FAFSA is not the end-all-be-all of paying for college. Read our guide on financial aid for undocumented students to learn more about your financial aid options for college. You can also text us (send #FAFSA to 33-55-77) and we can walk you through alternatives to the FAFSA and where to find financial aid!

Do you have to pay to complete the FAFSA?

No! You should never pay to fill out the FAFSA. Be sure you are on FAFSA.gov at all times throughout the FAFSA completion process and be wary of filling out any forms or documents that don’t look official. We recommend completing the FAFSA alongside a parent or trusted adult to ensure the process goes smoothly and safely.

What happens after I complete the FAFSA?

We made a chart to help you understand what happens after you submit your FAFSA. Save it or screenshot it to have handy later!

Have questions about the FAFSA?

Text #FAFSA to 33-55-77 and we'll walk you through every step of filing your FAFSA! 

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