How to Fill out a FAFSA |

How to Fill out a FAFSA

By Nicole Willson

Updated April 20, 2016 Updated April 20, 2016

The US government provides students with over $150 billion in grants, student loans, and work-study funds every year. In order to qualify for that money, however, you must first fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Here's how you do it.

FAFSA Qualifications

Before you follow the steps to apply for the FAFSA, you must make sure you meet the following FAFSA qualifications:

  • Citizenship: You must be a US citizen or an eligible non-citizen.
  • Education: You must be a high school graduate or have a GED.
  • Loan history: You must certify that you aren't in default on a federal loan or owe money on a federal grant.
  • Use of money: You must certify that you will only be using your federal student aid for educational purposes.

When to Apply for a FAFSA

One of the first things you need to do is decide when to apply for the FAFSA. It's best to apply for the FAFSA as soon as possible, since federal financial aid is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition, it's better to apply for the FAFSA before you apply for scholarships, since any scholarships you get before filing the FAFSA will count against the amount of student aid you get. You should also find out about federal, state, and college student aid deadlines.

You can look up state and federal deadlines using a form on the FAFSA website. Each school has its own deadline, so you will have to call the financial aid office and ask what their student aid deadline is.

How to Fill out a FAFSA

  • Decide how you want to apply. You have three options:
    In some cases, you may be able to apply directly through the school you're applying to, so you may want to ask the school's financial aid administrator if they can help with your application.
    • Online (the recommended option per the FAFSA site) The online application takes 3-5 days to process. The FAFSA website edits your application, eliminating errors.
    • The PDF FAFSA -- must be mailed.
    • The Paper FAFSA, which can be obtained by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. It takes 7-10 days to process a paper FAFSA.
  • Apply for a Federal Student Aid PIN at the PIN website. This number serves as your identifier and personal signature. You can either create your own PIN or have one automatically generated. While you are not required to have a PIN, it is encouraged. If you do not use a pin, you will need to print out and mail a signature page within 14 days of submitting your FAFSA.
  • Gather all the documents you will need in order to complete the application, including:
    • Your social security card
    • Your driver's license
    • Your W-2 forms
    • Your income tax return
    • Records of student aid
    • Current bank statement
  • If you are applying online, print out a copy of the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet and fill it out. You can then take the answers from the worksheet and input them into the online application.
  • When you use the online application or fill out the paper form, provide all the information and required signatures. Double check your answers for accuracy and completeness. Make sure you submit your application and receive a confirmation page.
  • If you are applying online, print out a copy of the application for your records. If you are submitting a paper application, make a copy before you send it in.
  • After your application is processed, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to you and all the colleges you listed. The SAR includes a Data Release Number (DRN) and the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). You will need the DRN if you have to change any information on your application. The EFC is a number used by the financial aid office in order to calculate how much money you are eligible to receive.

This article was originally published in August 2012 . It was last updated in April 2016

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