How To Apply For The FAFSA

How to Apply for FAFSA in 7 Easy Steps

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the primary sources of financial aid for students and their families. But it can be confusing, so it’s important to learn how to apply for it.

The FAFSA is how you access financial aid from both the federal and state governments as well as some college and universities. Financial aid may come in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

You can apply for FAFSA online at studentaid.gov, via the MyStudentAid app available via iTunes or Google Play, or you fill out a paper form and mail it in.

Completing the FAFSA is a crucial step to get the money you need for school and it can seem overwhelming, so we’ve put together these step-by-step instructions to help you through the process.

Applying for FAFSA: Step-by-step instructions

The FAFSA can be intimidating but should only take about an hour to finish as long as you follow these steps.

1. Gather Your Information

When you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll be asked to provide certain information. You can speed up the process by having all the necessary information and documents on hand. You should have:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your family size and income
  • Your personal income (if any)
  • The list of colleges you’re applying to

2. Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID

If applying for the FAFSA online or via the mobile app, your next step is to create a FSA ID. This is a unique identifier used to complete the FAFSA each year you’re in college. It takes about 10 minutes to create, and it can be done entirely online. Students have their own unique FSA ID. If you’re a parent, your FSA ID will be separate from your child’s.

3. Fill in Student Information

Once you have your FSA ID, you can begin the FAFSA online or via the app. Choose the form you’d like to complete most likely the upcoming school year, and begin filling out the student demographic section. This section asks for your information, such as your name, age, and date of birth.

You’ll also be prompted to enter the schools you’re interested in attending. Make sure to enter all schools you are considering so that you get the maximum aid you’re entitled to receive from each one.

For the dependency section, you’ll be asked questions that determine whether you’re a dependent of your parents or not, for financial aid purposes.

4. Enter Parent Information

Once you’ve completed the student section, you need to enter information about your parents. Even if you don’t currently live with your parents, you still need to complete this section. The form will prompt you to enter their names, mailing addresses, and other information.

5. Provide Your Financial Information

Next, you need to enter your household’s financial information, including your income and that of your parents. If applying for FAFSA online, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically pulls the necessary data from your tax return.

6. Review Your FAFSA

Before submitting, make sure you review the FAFSA for any errors or mistakes. Double check the list of schools you entered, and your financial information.

7. Sign and Submit Your FAFSA form

Once you’re sure all of the information is correct, you can electronically sign and submit the form. That’s it, you’re done!

How to Apply for FAFSA: FAQs

What Are Important FAFSA Dates?

There are a few dates to keep in mind when applying for FAFSA: The school year, the form year, deadlines and tax information year.

Attendance Dates FAFSA Form Filing Dates* Tax Information
July 1, 2020June 30, 2021 2020 – 2021 October 1, 2019June 30, 2021 2018
July 1, 2021June 30, 2022 2021 – 2022 October 1, 2020June 30, 2022 2019
  • Attendance Dates: July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021
    • FAFSA Form: 2020 – 2021
    • Filing Dates*: October 1, 2019 – June 30, 2021
    • Tax Information Year: 2018
  • Attendance Dates: July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022
    • FAFSA Form: 2021 – 2022
    • Filing Dates*: October 1, 2010 – June 30, 2022
    • Tax Information Year: 2019

*States and individual schools often have different deadlines for completing the FAFSA than the federal government. Here is a list of FAFSA state deadlines. Be sure to check with your school.

How Long Does FAFSA Take to Complete?

According to the Office of Federal Student Aid, it takes most people less than an hour to complete the FAFSA. That estimate includes the time it takes to gather necessary information or data, complete and review your information, and read the confirmation page you’ll receive once you submit your application.

If you submitted the FAFSA for a previous year and are simply doing a renewal application, the process can be much faster.

Should I Apply for the FAFSA Early?

Some federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come-first-served basis so it’s a good idea to file as early as possible. Completing the FAFSA early has many benefits such as allowing you to spend more time on searching for “free money” – like scholarships and grants – and focusing on other college planning and preparation.

What Happens After Submitting FAFSA

If completed online, your application is typically processed within 3-5 days. If you mailed in a paper application, it could take 7-10 days.

Once it’s processed, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes the information you provided on the FAFSA. Review the SAR to make sure everything is accurate; if there’s a mistake, go back and edit your FAFSA.

The SAR will also list the expected family contribution (EFC), which is how much your family is expected to pay toward your education. Your FAFSA application, SAR, and EFC are sent to the colleges on your list, and the schools use that information to calculate your financial aid package.

The Importance of Applying for FAFSA

Not everyone realizes how important the FAFSA is for families and college-bound students. According to the National College Access Network, only 57 percent of high school seniors in the class of 2019 completed the FAFSA; those who skipped it were ineligible to receive federal aid, such as grants, work-study programs, and even federal student loans. Students could even miss out on school-offered scholarships, since many colleges use the FAFSA to determine your aid.

Completing FAFSA is the essential first step in paying for college, helping you get access to valuable grants, federal student loans and merit aid from many different sources.

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