Your Guide to the FAFSA

Students Filling Out FAFSA

Close to twenty million applications are received each year resulting from the completion of the  FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This may sound like a lot, but reports show there were still millions of dollars untouched by students due to lack of awareness that the money existed.

Even if you think you don’t qualify for financial aid, you should still apply by completing the FAFSA. Some schools include their own aid, scholarships and grants in their searches. Plus, most schools have a financial aid department to help you throughout the process, taking pressures away from you regarding money.

Before you begin the process, it is important to understand the application. Keep reading for a general guide to completing the FAFSA.


Avoid Common Mistakes

It’s better to learn the mistakes most people make before you begin the process, so you will not repeat them. Mistakes may happen anyway, and that’s okay, but you will do better if you are prepared for potential obstacles.

Many people make the mistake of not completing the entire FAFSA form. Leaving parts of the application blank can prevent you from landing thousands of dollars to help you pay for college.

Another mistake is landing on the wrong website. It’s important you know completing the FAFSA is free of charge. There are companies who will try to charge you a fee to complete the application for you. But with just a little bit of time, you can do this on your own, for free. Just make sure the website you use ends with “.gov”.

As soon as the FAFSA is available (usually on October 1st) for the year you want to attend college, make sure you complete it then and do not wait. Some of the funds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. For example, if you are planning to attend college in the Fall of 2019, the FAFSA will be available for you to complete on October 1st of 2018.

Also, do not miss deadlines. And do not forget to get an FSA identification number before starting. This process can take a couple of days, so get this number first. You will have an easier time applying when you use your FSA I.D. to start the process.

Finally, make sure you read and understand all definitions and instructions before providing answers. The instructions in the FAFSA are detailed. Take the time to read them carefully and you will have a better chance at not making errors.

Now that you are familiar with common mistakes, let’s walk through the FAFSA application.


Creating an Account

Until you create an account, you won’t be able to start the application process. Remember, use your FSA identification number here. It only takes about ten minutes to get one. It can take a few days to get your i.d. number.

However, if your parent is required to report their income information, they can get an FSA number and can begin using it right away.


Start the Application

Don’t wait for school deadlines to apply for funds. As soon as FAFSA makes the application available on October 1st , start applying then.

Make sure you choose the right school year. If you are renewing your  FAFSA, choose the renewal button and all your previous demographic information will be automatically loaded. This will save you a lot of time.

If this is your first time applying, fill out the demographics sections.


Demographics Sections

The application will require you provide basic information like name, date of birth, and residence. They may also ask where you attended high school, parent names, and social security number.

If your parent is completing the form for you, they need to respond to the questions as if they are you. Once you complete the basic demographics, you will be asked to which schools the application should be sent.

It’s okay to send your FAFSA information to any school you are considering, from community colleges to universities. Even if you haven’t applied to them yet, it is okay to send them your information.

In these sections you will also need to provide information to determine if you are a dependent on your parents or if you are independently filing. If you are found to be considered dependent, you will need to provide further information on your parents and their income status.


Providing Financial Evidence

The FAFSA application will ask about your financial status, such as bank account balances, tax returns, or W2 statements. This process can be simplified by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. With just a few clicks, you can connect your tax information from the IRS to the FAFSA by importing the data.

This can save you a great deal of time and effort. The online FAFSA application will provide a link to the IRS data retrieval tool, making it even easier for the applicant.


Complete the Application

There are important steps in completing the FAFSA application. Make sure you sign electronically in every place it asks you to sign. Double check that you have entered the correct FSA identification number.

Make sure you hit the submit button. This ensures your application gets processed. If you do not hit the submit button, it will not be sent through the proper channels and you will likely not ever receive a response regarding funding.


What Happens Next?

You have filled out the application, signed and hit submit. Now what? Well, your application will continue through the processing channels. It will go through many more steps.

Your application is shared with all the colleges you chose to receive your information. It is shared with the financial aid departments within those institutions. It also is sent to the higher education agency within your State.

You can expect to receive information from the Department of Education, the Federal Student Aid department and possibly the colleges to which you are applying. While these communications will not contain information about funds you qualify for, they can offer helpful advice.

Once you make the final decision on which college to attend, you will work with their financial aid officers to determine which funding opportunities are available to you. They will explain how your money will be paid out and when.

They can also help you decide which funding to accept and which to reject, if any, leaving you in control of how you will pay for college.