Before you start
Applying online through FAFSA on the Web (www.fafsa.gov) saves time and simplifies key parts of the process, like submitting your data to schools. The online FAFSA also offers built-in edits that can correct errors and guide you through the application. You can simplify things even more by having certain information ready. Here's what to gather or know ahead:
- Need a different form of the FAFSA? Here's help.
- FAFSA on paper — Request a paper FAFSA by calling (800) 433-3243 or, for the hearing impaired, (800) 730-8913. You can also download a copy here (https://fafsa.ed.gov/options.htm). If you're an undocumented student applying for aid in Texas, you may need to complete a paper FAFSA and provide it to your school of choice. Learn more here: http://www.aie.org/plan-for-college/is-college-for-me/
- Getting a FSA ID (formally PIN): Getting a FSA ID before you begin the FAFSA could prevent processing delays and it only takes a few minutes to apply. You’ll need a Federal Student Aid ID, a personal identification number that allows you to sign your FAFSA electronically. Your FSA ID also can be used to sign loan contracts and to access certain information online. You can get your FSA ID as you fill out the FAFSA, but you also have the option to get it ahead of time (if you already have a PIN number you can link it to your FSA ID). Find out how to get a FSA ID and what to do if you forgot your FSA ID at http://ifap.ed.gov/eannouncements/attachments/050415FSAIDReplaceHowToCreateFSAIDGuideATTACH.pdf
- Your Social Security Number (SSN) and the SSN of your parents, if you are a dependent student. Find out if you are a dependent student. For help determining dependency, click on “Apply for Aid” at http://www.aie.org/pay-for-college/
- Your driver's license number, if you have one
- Tax records from last year; if you've filed your taxes this year, you might be able to import your tax data using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
- Records of untaxed income, that is, checking and savings account balances, interest income, investments, and other assets
- Your Federal Student Aid personal identification number or PIN, which you'll need to sign your application electronically
- A list of schools that you're interested in attending; your FAFSA data will be sent to these schools to help them put together a financial aid package for you
- One thing you don’t need in order to fill out the FAFSA? Money! Remember, the FAFSA is FREE when you use the official .gov site: www.fafsa.gov.
How to complete
Set aside about 45 minutes to an hour to complete the FAFSA on the Web. Here are a few details to keep in mind about key steps in the process.
- Providing personal information: This is information like your name, date of birth, etc. If you have completed the FAFSA in the past, a lot of your personal info will be pre-populated to save you time. Make sure you enter your personal information exactly as it appears on official government documents. (That’s right, no nicknames.) If you're completing the FAFSA for the first time, you'll have to log in using a password you create. You can save your application if you need to stop in the middle and return later to complete it; you'll need your password in that case.
- Choosing colleges, universities, and institutions: Your FAFSA data will be sent to schools you're interested in attending. You have to select at least one school but can choose up to ten. Schools use your FAFSA information to craft a financial aid package that can help you pay for school expenses at their institution.
- Determining dependency status: If you are considered a dependent student according to the FAFSA, you will need to provide financial information for one or both parents. Learn how your dependency status can affect completing the FAFSA https://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out/dependency.
- Reporting your parents' information: If you're a dependent student, you'll need to report your parents' information. Have questions about your family situation and how it might affect completing the FAFSA? See Providing parent information on the FAFSA (https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/parent-info).
- Providing financial data: Make sure you have any IRS W-2 forms handy as well as your previous year's tax records. You'll need this information along with data on untaxed income like bank account balances, investments, and other assets. You should use income records for the tax year prior to the academic year for which you are applying. For example, if you are filling out the 2015–16 FAFSA, you will need to use 2014 tax information. If you or your parent(s) haven’t filed your 2014 taxes yet, you can always estimate the amounts using your 2013 tax return; just make sure to update your FAFSA once you file your 2014 taxes. Already
completed your tax returns for the year? You might be able to import some financial information using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It makes completing the FAFSA super easy! (This is changing in 2017!)
Sign and submit your FAFSA
Before you submit your FAFSA, you'll need to sign it using your FSA ID that you created earlier. The FSA ID serves as your electronic signature, or e-signature. You’ll use it to electronically sign and submit your FAFSA. If you don’t have a FSA ID, you’ll need to get one. If you’ve completed the FAFSA in the past, you probably already have a FSA ID. You can use the same FSA ID you used in the past to renew your FAFSA each school year, so keep it in a safe place. If you have forgotten your FSA ID, you can retrieve it. If you’re considered a dependent student, at least one of your parents will need a FSA ID as well. If you or one of your siblings have completed the FAFSA within the last 18 months, your parent(s) will use the same FSA ID they used before. If not, your parent(s) may need to apply for a new FSA ID. If the application was accepted, you should receive a confirmation email. Here's what happens next.
- The Department of Education processes your FAFSA data, calculates the amount of money your family can contribute to your education, and sends you back a summary called the Student Aid Report (SAR). At the same time, the Department sends your data to schools you're interested in.
- Schools use your FAFSA data to estimate your financial need and put together a package of financial aid to help you meet that need. Your schools will send you this information in financial aid award letters. (http://www.aie.org/pay-for-college/apply-for-aid/understand-your-award-letter.cfm) Look for these in the March to April timeframe if you're applying for the next fall semester and completed your college application and FAFSA earlier in the year.
There's still work to be done after you complete the FAFSA. Here's a summary of what to do.
- Weigh your financial aid offers (http://www.aie.org/pay-for-college/apply-for-aid/compare-your-financial-aid- awards.cfm) along with other factors in deciding where to go to college. Note that you can accept all, some, or none of the award offered you depending on your preference.
Apply for institutional aid at the college of your choice.
Apply for state and federal grants. The FAFSA often serves as the first step in the application process for various forms of aid, including state and federal grants. You may need to fulfill other requirements to be eligible for state aid. Find out specific Texas grant eligibility and application requirements here http://www.collegeforalltexans.com/apps/financialaid/tofa.cfm?Kind=GS.
- Apply for Texas financial aid if you are classified as a Texas resident but not considered a U.S. citizen. Visit College for All Texans to complete the Texas Application for State Financial Aid, or TASFA.
- Search for scholarships. Use AIE's Scholarship Search tool (http://www.aie.org/scholarships/) and Fastweb (www.fastweb.com) to find money for college you don't have to repay.
- Has your FAFSA been chosen for verification? The Department of Education and some schools select FAFSAs to verify for their accuracy. If your FAFSA has been picked, provide requested information as soon as you can so you expedite the process and don't lose out on possible aid.
If you have questions or need guidance as you complete your FAFSA, there's plenty of help available. Here are a few experts to turn to online or by phone.
- Texas Financial Aid Information Center (TFAIC) — TFAIC can answer questions about every phase of the college admissions and financial aid processes. The team provides a free public service to all Texas students pursuing a higher education and to the families helping them. TFAIC can be reached at (888) 311-8881 or by email at TXFinAidInfo@tgslc.org.
- FAFSA Help on Federal Student Aid (https://fafsa.ed.gov/help.htm) website — The Department of Education offers a comprehensive database of questions on the FAFSA process.
- Step-by-step video tutorial: 7 Easy Steps to the FAFSA; Video Tutorial: http://www.finaid.ucsb.edu/fafsasimplification/
*Information provided in these documents was taken from fafsa.gov, aie.org, collegeforalltexans.com, collegeboard.org, and US News & World Report Education