How To Apply For The FAFSA

How to Complete the FAFSA in 7 Easy Steps

If you’re going to college next year, congratulations! You’re entering an exciting time of your life where you’ll meet lifelong friends and get a degree that will help your career.

Before you step onto campus, you’ll want to figure out how you’re going to pay for school. College can be expensive, but there are ways to make it more affordable. The first step is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Not everyone realizes how important the FAFSA is for college-bound students. According to the National College Access Network, only 61% percent of high school graduates completed the FAFSA; those who skipped it were ineligible to receive federal aid, such as grants, work-study programs, and even federal student loans. You could even miss out on school-offered scholarships, since many colleges use the FAFSA to determine your aid.

Completing the FAFSA is a crucial step to get the money you need for school. But if you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, we can help! Below, you’ll find step-by-step instructions and key information on deadlines to help you through the process.

How to complete the FAFSA: Step-by-step instructions

Although the FAFSA can be intimidating, it’s actually pretty simple to complete. And, it shouldn’t take you more than 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
  • Your list of selected colleges that you’re applying to

2. Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID

If you plan on completing the FAFSA online, your next step is to create a FSA ID. This is a unique identifier you’ll use throughout your college career to complete the FAFSA each year. It takes about 10 minutes to create a FSA ID, and it can be done entirely online. If you’re a student, you’ll have your 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 at FAFSA.gov. 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 you enter any 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. To make it easier on you, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically pulls the necessary data from your tax return. You can use the tool directly from the online FAFSA application.

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!

When do I file the FAFSA

If you’re applying for financial aid for the 2019-2020 school year, you can file and submit your FAFSA between October 1, 2018 and midnight, Central Time, June 30, 2020. If you’re applying for aid for the 2020-2021 school year, you can file and submit your FAFSA between October 1, 2019 and June 30, 2021.

However, many states and colleges have their own deadlines, as well. If you’re trying to figure out the answer to “When should you fill out the FAFSA?”, it’s important to keep those other deadlines in mind.

You can view FAFSA state deadlines for the 2019-2020 school year on the Federal Student Aid website. To find out if your selected college has different deadlines, contact the school financial aid office.

6 benefits of filing FAFSA early

If you’re thinking about when to start filling out the FAFSA, a good guideline to remember is that earlier is always better. Although you have until June 30, 2020 to submit your FAFSA for the 2019-2020 school year, it’s a good idea to complete the FAFSA as soon as you can.

Filling out the FAFSA early has the following benefits:

1. You’ll have a better chance of securing state and school aid

Schools and states have limited amounts of student aid available, and it’s awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. If you wait until the Spring to submit the FAFSA, your state or school could run out of money, and you may miss out on financial aid you otherwise could have received if you submitted your FAFSA earlier.

2. You’re more likely to qualify for grants

You’re more likely to qualify for federal, state, and college-offered grants if you file the FAFSA early. In fact, Saving for College reported that students who fill out the FAFSA between October and December get twice as many grants, on average, as compared with students who file the FAFSA later.

3. You can focus on other things

Your senior year of high school can be stressful. Filling out the FAFSA removes a big item from your to-do list so you can focus on other tasks, like submitting college applications, finishing up the school year, or applying for scholarships.

4. It’ll make comparing colleges easier

If you complete the FAFSA earlier in the year, colleges will be able to use that information to come up with your financial aid award letter. That will make comparing colleges much easier, as you can quickly compare what each school’s cost will be after applying grants and scholarship awards.

5. You can begin searching for scholarships

Some scholarships offered by companies or organizations will request your FAFSA information, and they often have early deadlines. Completing the FAFSA closer to October 1 will help you as you begin searching for and applying for scholarships, reducing how much you need to take out in student loans.

6. You can pursue other financial aid, if necessary

Once you complete the FAFSA and start receiving financial aid award letters, you can come up with a comprehensive plan to pay for college.

Your award letter may include a mix of scholarships, grants, and federal student loans. However, there is a chance that the awards may not be enough to cover the total cost of your attendance, including room and board or textbooks. If that’s the case, you’ll have to look into additional financing options, such as outside scholarships or private student loans.

The earlier you fill out the FAFSA, the more time you’ll have to research your options and shop around to get the best student loan for you.

FAFSA FAQs

How early can I fill out FAFSA?

The FAFSA becomes available each year on October 1. You can begin filling out the FAFSA on that date.

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.

When should FAFSA be completed?

Your last chance to submit the FAFSA is midnight, Central Time, on June 30. However, you should aim to complete the FAFSA well before that deadline so that you can receive the maximum amount of financial aid possible.

What happens after you submit your FAFSA

Once you complete the FAFSA online, the U.S. Department of Education will process your form within two weeks. 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.

Paying for college

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

But if you still need help paying for college and have exhausted your federal aid options, private student loans like the ones we offer can help fill the gap.

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