So, you’ve made the decision to go to college or university. Congrats!
Now you just have to make the decision about how you’re going to pay for college or university. Studies during college can get pricey for students in any tax bracket, but luckily there are tools and resources to help alleviate the financial burden of going to school. One of those resources (which you’ve probably already heard about) is the FAFSA.
What exactly is the FAFSA?
FAFSA is short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In order to qualify for and apply for financial aid, work study, loans, and some scholarships, you must file a FAFSA. FAFSA is the largest source of aid to pay for career schools and colleges, and is used regularly nationwide.
Why Should You Fill Out a FAFSA?
Well, undoubtedly the biggest perk of filling out a FAFSA is that you are potentially eligible to receive financial aid for school. College, career schools, technical schools - they are all expensive, and those expenses over the years add up quickly. If (or when) it becomes hard or even impossible to pay for school, filling out a FAFSA may give you the opportunity to receive aid so you can start and keep pursuing your education!
Other benefits of the FAFSA are that it’s free and easy to access. It automatically connects you with loans, grants and scholarships you may be eligible for - all online. FAFSA also works directly with schools and institutions and alleviates a lot of the stress of finding and applying for numerous types of aid. In a world where it can cost upwards of twenty dollars just to send your transcripts to an institution, being able to fill out an application to receive financial aid for free and do it all with the click of a mouse is a giant perk.
Additionally, some colleges and states use your FAFSA application to see if you are eligible for their aid, such as grants, scholarships, and work-study. Some private financial institutions that offer aid for school may even use your FAFSA for that same purpose. So, even if you don’t need that much financial aid, it helps to have a FAFSA on file while you’re in school.
However, even though the FAFSA is free and easy to access and use, there are a lot of people that need help filling out the FAFSA.
Simple Tips to Help Fill Out the FAFSA Form
Okay, so now that you know a little bit about the FAFSA itself, you may need help filling out the FAFSA form. Even FAFSA veterans can use tips and tricks.
What can make the process of filling out a FAFSA Application faster and easier, even if you’ve done it before? Check out these seven simple steps.
1. Get Your Personal Information Together Before You Start!
What Do I Need To Fill Out The FAFSA
Although the FAFSA is online, simple, and easy to use, it does require certain documents and information about you. After all, the government isn’t just going to give out money for free, right? They need to know certain things about you on your application to determine your eligibility.
Before you start filling out your FAFSA, you will need:
- An email address to create an account
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (If you are not a U.S. Citizen).
- Access to your recently filed tax forms (within the last year or two)
- Knowledge of your bank account standing, investments and assets (if applicable)
If you are a dependent student, you will also need all of the above information for your parents. A dependent student is any undergraduate student who is under the age of 24 unless they are legally married, have a dependent of their own that is not a spouse, are on active duty in the US Armed Forces, a veteran, and other criteria. To find out if you are considered a dependent student or independent student, click here.
Additionally, if you are considered a dependent student and live away from your parents, it’s a good idea to let them know you are filling out your FAFSA form. This is because not only will you need their tax information, but you will also need a signature from one of your parents to complete your FAFSA.
Your parent will either have to create his or her own FAFSA account online or log into his or her existing FAFSA account. You may need to walk them through the process to make sure your FAFSA will be submitted; even parents might need help filling out the FAFSA!
2. Check Your Deadlines To Make Sure You Can Get Your Aid In Time!
In order to receive Financial Aid, there are certain deadlines that need to be met. You need to submit your application(s) per aid year before a certain time frame in order to ensure you will receive your aid for that time frame. Checking deadlines and filling out your FAFSA as soon as possible really benefit you.
In addition to the Federal Financial Aid submission deadlines, watch out for state deadlines and college deadlines.
To check your deadlines per state and school, click here and scroll to “Student Aid Deadlines.”
To see a worksheet with every 2019-2020 deadline, check out this PDF.
3. Look at the Early Aid Estimate to See If You Are Eligible for Student Aid and How Much You Might be Eligible for
So, the anticipation is killing you. Are you eligible for financial aid? How much? Do you have to go through the whole application before you find out?
The great news is, technically, no you don’t! FAFSA has a tool called the FAFSA4caster where you can visit to see if you are initially eligible for financial aid, and an estimate of how much you might be eligible for.
Although the tool is just an estimate, and everything must be completed through the actual FAFSA form in order to be legitimate, it’s still helpful to get a baseline of what aid you might be able to receive.
For more information about the FAFSA4caster and how to get started, click here!
4. Drum Roll….. Fill Out the FAFSA Application!
Now that you’ve done your research and gotten your information prepared, you’re ready to get started on the application itself. Luckily for students everywhere, the FAFSA is easy to find, easy to use, and has a ton of help available for things that might be hard to understand. There is also a mobile app! You can get started on your FAFSA Application on a desktop or the app - it’s all up to you from here.
How do you fill out the form?
- First, go to https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa or download the mobile app, called myStudentAid. Download it on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store.
- Create a new login or sign into your previously created account.
- Follow the prompts!
- The online FAFSA application is extremely user-friendly and helpful as you are going through the motions of filling out the information. Pop-up boxes and question mark links appear during most of the sections throughout the FAFSA and will help answer questions and guide you on terms and things you aren’t totally sure about.
- Remember… take your time and fill out your form correctly! This will help you in the long run so you don’t have to re-verify information or go back to edit information.
- Upload your tax information using FAFSA’s IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
- When it comes time to enter your tax information, FAFSA gives you the option to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to upload your previous tax information online right from the IRS. You’ll be redirected to the IRS’s website, but don’t worry - your FAFSA information will be saved. Who would’ve thought that even the IRS can help fill out your FAFSA?
- If you’re a dependent student, make sure one of your parents signs your FAFSA application.
- You may have submitted all of your information, but it turns out your parents need to help fill out your FAFSA as well. Your FAFSA won’t be officially submitted until one of your parents signs it. For more information and Q&A about parents signing your FAFSA, check out the FAFSA Help page
5. Check Your Email for Updates.
Who Will I Hear From, And When?
FAFSA will send an email to your verified email address you used when setting up your account. They will email you when your FAFSA has been submitted and received, if any corrections need to be made, and updates on if your FAFSA application has been accepted. If you’re close to your deadlines, try to check your email every day or so for updates in case you need to do any additional steps to get your aid.
Want more info on what to expect after you submit your FAFSA? Here’s what happens next.
6. Check With Your School’s Financial Aid Department for Updates.
Since your FAFSA is (most likely) being sent to your school or university to determine your aid amount, you’ll want to check with your school’s financial aid department to see if there are any additional documents needed from you in order to receive your aid.
Chances are they will need some documents from you, and filling these out as quickly as possible speeds up the process.
These notifications can typically be found in your online student account if you have one, but calling or going to your school’s Financial Aid Office in person is just as effective!
7. Check Once More With Your School’s Financial Aid Department to Accept Your Aid!
Check again with your school’s Financial Aid Department or your online student account to see if you have been awarded any aid, and if so, how much you have been awarded and what type you have been awarded.
Make sure to do your research before accepting any financial aid! There are a lot of different types of aid, and each comes with a different set of terms and conditions that you’re responsible for following once you accept. Some types of aid, like grants and scholarships, don’t need to be paid back like a loan does. These are obviously types of aid you’ll want to accept first. It’s extremely beneficial to do your homework on any financial aid you are thinking of accepting. Check this page for a low-down on all the different kinds of aid.
If you have been awarded aid and would like to accept it, you will have to complete Entrance Counseling, which is online counseling to make sure you understand what you are taking on and what’s expected of you when you’re accepting financial aid.
You’ll also most likely have to fill out a Master Promissory Note, or MPN, which is a document in which you certify that you will be responsible for paying back any loans you receive. MPN’s also describe the details, terms and conditions of your loan in further detail.
The FAFSA application is one of the best resources for any students looking to finance their studies and college careers. If you’re thinking about going to school for the first time or going back to school and need help financing the costs, you’ll want to fill out a FAFSA.
Remember these 7 easy steps for help filling out your FAFSA:
- Get Your Personal Information Ready
- Research Your Deadlines
- Look at the Early Aid Estimate
- Fill out the FAFSA Form (Correctly)
- Check Your Email for Updates
- Check With Your School’s Financial Aid Office
- Check Again to Accept Your Financial Aid Award(s)
Now that you know more about the FAFSA itself and what it takes to complete a FAFSA application, you have one last step: grab your computer or mobile phone and start your application!