Paying for College
Financial Aid 101
Quick Tips for Completing the FAFSA
The Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a first and best step in understanding if you will need to borrow to attend college. The government will use the information to determine your eligibility for aid and loans, and then the colleges you are interested in attending will use that information to prepare a financial aid award letter once they have accepted your application.
The form asks for a variety of information, ranging from your Social Security number to tax records to information about your parents (if you are a dependent). You can prepare by gathering all of the required information ahead of time. This will help the process go more quickly and smoothly.
You can simplify the FAFSA application process by having certain information ready. Here’s what to gather or know ahead:
- Your Social Security number (SSN)
- Your parents’ information if you are a dependent student.
- Your driver’s license number, if you have one.
- Tax records; you might be able to import your tax data using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The FAFSA will tell you what year’s taxes to use.
- Records or amount of other funds – for example, checking and savings account balances, interest income, investments, and other assets.
- Your Federal Student Aid Identification Number (FSA ID), which you’ll need to sign your application electronically.
- The list of schools that you’re interested in attending; your FAFSA data will be sent to these schools to help them put together a financial aid package for you.
Set aside about 45 minutes to an hour to complete the FAFSA on the Web. Here are a few details to keep in mind about key steps in the process.
- Personal information |Standard information such as your name, address, phone, and email.
- Selected colleges, universities, and institutions | Select up to ten schools to receive your FAFSA data.
- Parent information | If you are considered a dependent student according to the FAFSA, you will need to provide financial information for one or both parents.
- Financial data | In addition to tax information, you’ll need to include bank account balances, investments, and other assets (the FAFSA will tell you which year’s tax information you need).
Before you submit your FAFSA, sign it using your FSA ID. When the application is accepted you should receive a confirmation email. Here’s what happens next.
- The Department of Education processes your FAFSA data, calculates the amount of money your family should be able to contribute to your education, and sends you back a summary called the Student Aid Report (SAR). At the same time, the Department sends your data to schools you’re interested in.
- Schools use your FAFSA data to estimate your financial need and create a package of financial aid to help you meet that need. Your schools will send you this information in financial aid award letters. Check your school’s website to see when this information will be sent.
There’s still work to be done after you complete the FAFSA. Here’s a summary of what to do next.
- Weigh your financial aid offers | You can accept all, some, or none of the award offered you depending on your preference.
- Apply for institutional aid at the college of your choice.
- Apply for state and federal grants | The FAFSA often serves as the first step in the application process for various forms of aid, including state and federal grants. Others may exist. Find out more about grant eligibility and application requirements here.
- Search for scholarships.
Has your FAFSA been chosen for verification? The Department of Education and some schools select FAFSAs to verify for their accuracy. If your FAFSA has been picked, provide requested information as soon as you can so you expedite the process and don’t lose out on possible aid.
If you have questions or need guidance as you complete your FAFSA, visit the FAFSA Help on Federal Student Aid website, where the Department of Education offers a comprehensive database of questions on the FAFSA process. Your FAFSA Connection offers lots of information that can help you as you complete the FAFSA. Explore any or all of these resources.
For a detailed video guide with step-by-step instructions, see Completing the FAFSA. The video is available in English and Spanish.