The Free Application for Federal Student Aid opens up tomorrow, October 1. Better known as FAFSA, the application puts you on the path to receive financial aid for college. The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely changed some students’ opinions about the decision to attend a 4-year university, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fill out FAFSA. It’s a free application and the results you get later can ultimately help decide your route post-high school or even your path mid-higher education. Some forms of financial aid are awarded on a first come, first served basis, so it’s best to submit your application as soon as possible. Certain schools require it to even be considered for merit scholarships.
Completing FAFSA can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. So take it slow. Write everything down or keep notes on a computer document. And don’t be afraid to ask questions! If you are confused in the slightest, it is worth pausing to find the answer. You can reach out directly to the Federal Student Aid Information Center by email, phone call (1-800-433-3243) or live chat or you can browse through their FAQ. There is a good chance someone has had the same question! To kick off your application process, check out our guide below.
What you’ll need
- Applying student’s Social Security number (SSN)
- Parent Social Security number if student is a dependent
- Driver’s license (if you have one)
- Alien Registration number (if you have one)
- Student federal tax information/tax returns
- Parents’ federal tax information/tax returns if student is a dependent
- Records of untaxed income (examples: child support, interest income, veterans noneducation benefits)
- Information about cash savings, bank account balances, investments (stocks, bonds, real estate), business and farm assets
- Note: Do not mail these records.
The most efficient way to complete the application is online. It’ll keep your information with financial aid nice and organized and it allows you to easily connect to when the time comes to file your taxes or start paying your loans back. You’ll be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which will automatically populate your application and reduce your chances of errors.
Other notes and helpful hints
- The 2021-2022 FAFSA form (which opens tomorrow) will ask for 2019 tax information.
- Students must not share the FSA ID with anyone, even their parents. Parents should have their own.
- Contact the school you plan to attend if your family has had a major change in your financial situation since you completed 2019 taxes.
- If you are under age 24, pursuing an undergraduate degree, are not a veteran or married, do not have children you will likely file as a dependent (which means you must include your information and your parents’ information). Same goes if you depend on your parents’ income.
- You may still be considered a dependent even if your parents won’t be paying for your schooling. There is an option to explain why your parents won’t support you and provide their information. You may qualify for an unsubsidized loan, but that varies by school. This option is not the same as your parents being unable to pay for your school. If they are unable, you should still include their income information so the government can offer the appropriate aid.
- If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together, you just need to include information about the parent with whom you lived with more over the last 12 months. More on guardian and parent status here.
- You may be able to submit without parent information if your parents are incarcerated, you left home due to an abusive family environment, you don’t know where your parents are and cannot contact them and you haven’t been adopted, you are over 21 years old but not 24 and are homeless or self-supporting and risk homelessness.
- Parent citizenship does not affect financial aid eligibility
- If your parent doesn’t have a SSN, enter all zeroes on the form where it asks for such information.
- Your parent can’t create an FSA ID without an SSN, so they will have to sign the FAFSA form by printing a signature page, signing it and then mail it to the indicated address.
- If your parent doesn’t live in the U.S., you can select “foreign country” for parents’ state of legal residence.
- If your parent files taxes outside the U.S., you will be able to select “Yes” when asked if your parent filed a Puerto Rican or foreign tax return.
- There is a “Not going to file option,” which will prompt you to enter your parents’ earnings
- DACA recipients are not eligible for federal student aid, but may qualify for local state grants. In this case, your FAFSA should still be completed. The same applies for students who are neither a citizen or an eligible noncitizen (F1 or F2 student visa, J1 or J2 exchange visitor visa, G series visa)
- Eligible noncitizens include those with Permanent Resident Cards, Conditional Green Cards, record of designation as “refugee,” “parolee” or “asylum granted” by Department of Homeland Security, “Victim of human trafficking” designation by the Department of Health and Human Services, Canadian-born Native American, Residents of the Republic of Palau, the Republic of Marshall Islands or the Federated States of Micronesia
- Schools will not see what other schools you listed on your FAFSA form.
- Include all schools you applying to, even if you haven’t been accepted.
- Disable any ad blockers so pop-ups are allowed by fafsa.ed.gov
- Your application will be processed faster if you (and your parents) sign with your FSA ID
- Be sure to check your spam email for possible emails from Federal Student Aid or your college
- FAFSA 2021-2022 deadline is June 30, 2022. Check state deadlines here.
- You will never be prompted for payment to fill out FAFSA or any Department of Education-related action. If so, you may have ended up on a website that offers private services to fill out FAFSA on your behalf (which are not necessary). Be sure when completing FAFSA that the website ends in .gov.
The Federal Student Aid office website also offers a FAFSA demonstration site. It’s a handy way to enhance your understanding of the application, but just know that any information you enter will not actually be submitted or saved. It only serves as a learning tool.
What comes next?
After you complete your FAFSA, you will receive an email within a few days to confirm your application was processed. For first-time applicants, you will receive an aid offer from each college you listed, which will include the amount of aid you would receive at the school. When you choose your school, you will officially accept the school’s aid offer and then you will work with that school’s financial aid office in your years as a student. It is generally recommended to only accept as much as you really need in loans so you won’t have too much debt post-graduation. In the meantime, exercise patience as much as possible. If you fill out your FAFSA early, it will be many months until you know your financial aid package.