How To Apply For The FAFSA

How to Complete the FAFSA is 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 to apply for FAFSA

The FAFSA is technically due in June before you start the fall semester of school. However, you should submit the FAFSA as early as possible. The FAFSA becomes available on October 1 each year. You should complete it to ensure you get the maximum amount of aid to which you’re entitled.

However, you should keep in mind that some schools and states have their own deadlines that may be earlier. You can see the list of state-specific deadlines on the FAFSA application. For schools, contact the college’s financial aid office for their deadlines.

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.

Learn more about what happens after you file the FAFSA.

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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