Financial Aid 101 — How to Complete the FAFSA

The ultimate college pro-tip: Always fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Around 90% of college students receive financial aid of some sort, and filling out the FAFSA is just one way to get some of that financial assistance. College can be expensive, but federal aid can help you out.

The FAFSA might sound a little intimidating or complicated, but there are plenty of resources, guides, and FAQs to help break it all down. Take time to carefully look at the steps to complete the FAFSA.

Complete the FAFSA Online

Here’s some good news: you can download the form, submit your information, and track everything all online. Sweet, right? Over on the FAFSA website, you can get a FSA ID, change or update information, and keep an eye on important deadlines.

Filling Out the Form

Most of the information on the form is pretty straightforward–Name, address, social security number, high school, etc. Some of the things they’ll ask you for might be a little more confusing, like information about your IRS income tax returns. Ask a parent or guardian to help you out if you’re not sure or don’t know the answers–parents/guardians also have a section of the FAFSA to fill out.

Remember to read closely and follow all of the instructions to the letter. You don’t want some silly little mistake to hang up your application, after all. If you have any questions, refer first to the FAFSA itself, as it has two whole pages dedicated to answering any questions that might stump you.

Submitting the Form

The first day you can file the FAFSA is January 1st, but your state also has individual deadlines to pay attention too–luckily they’re all listed right on the form. You can submit your FAFSA right online, or if you downloaded a paper copy, mail it in.

After Submission

After your form has been processed, you’ll receive an SAR, Student Aid Report. This form has all the information you submitted on the FAFSA–make sure you scan it to double-check that all of the information is correct. The SAR also has a figure for the EFC–Estimated Family Contribution; this serves as an estimation as to your family’s financial situation and how much they can contribute to your education. This EFC number will help determine how much aid you’ll receive.

Additionally, individual colleges might have other financial aid forms you are required to fill out as well.

Once you’ve filed the FAFSA for the first time, it’s much easier to do the next time, and the time after that. This financial aid information doesn’t roll over from year to year, so you’ll need to resubmit it. You can fill out the FAFSA for every year you attend college.

Still Have Questions?

If the FAFSA form or site didn’t answer your question, head over to the Department of Education’s Student Aid site. Also, it has numerous resources available for download, all for free.

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