Everything You Need to Know About the FAFSA

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    While preparing for your first (or subsequent) year of college is often an exciting journey, the process of planning, researching, and figuring out how to pay for college can turn it into a stressful one.

    In this post, I will take you through the most common questions and answers pertaining to the FAFSA and applying for financial aid, and include some bonus resources to help you get ahead and stay on track. 

    Common FAFSA Questions / The Process

    • Question 1: What is the FAFSA?

      FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Once you have filled out this form, your college or university will take your information and use it to determine your eligibility for receiving financial aid to help you pay for school.

      The FAFSA form is available on or around October 1st of each year, and you fill it out for the first time as a senior in high school.

      Here is a link that will show you information on the various FAFSA deadlines (there are deadlines by college, by state, and more!).

      In order to maximize your chances of getting aid (some schools operate on a first-come, first-serve basis), I recommend that you complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after the application opens.

    • Question 2: How does it work?

      The process of submitting your FAFSA may seem daunting, but if you follow these steps, it doesn’t have to be!

      Step 1: Create your FSA ID.

      Your FSA ID is a username and password that allows you to easily access your FAFSA form, the myStudentAid app, and more. Creating your FSA ID takes just a couple of minutes, and we highly recommend you create your ID before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA, as this will cut down on potential delays in the process. 

      *Important note* If you are a dependent student, one of your parents will also need to create his or her own FSA ID (the parent who creates the ID should be the one whose information is reported on the FAFSA form) in order to be able to sign your application once you have finished filling it out.

      Step 2: Gather the necessary documents to apply.

      According to Studentaid.gov, the following documents or information may be helpful to have on hand as you fill out the FAFSA:

      -Your SSN (Social Security number) AND your parents’ SSN if you are a dependent student. 

      -Your driver’s license number, if applicable. 

      -Your Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen

      -Tax information or returns for both you AND your parents (parental tax information needed for dependent students only). This includes the IRS W-2 and 1040, and possibly other information depending on the state and country you live in. 

      -Money and banking information such as: 

      1. Checking and savings account balances.
      2. Investments (stocks, bonds, real estate)
      3. Business assets for you and your parents if you are a dependent student

      It is crucial to make sure that you have all of this information on hand and organized for when you go to fill out the FAFSA.

      *Tip from me: Print out all necessary documents and information, label them, and store them in a folder that you can both easily access and keep somewhere safe so it won’t get lost or damaged. If you want to save some trees, consider organizing everything into a folder on Google Drive that you can easily share with your parents.

      Step 3: Fill it out! 

      Students have four options when it comes to filling out the FAFSA:

      1. Apply online
      2. Apply via the myStudentAid mobile app
      3. Apply via PDF
      4. Apply via print-out of the PDF (must be mailed in)

      I recommend either applying online at fafsa.gov or using the mobile app.

      When you are filling out the FAFSA, you will see that you must list at least one school to receive your information. Each school you list on your form will use your information to determine how much and what types of aid you are eligible to receive.

      When you fill out the form online or in the mobile app, you can list up to 10 schools, but be aware that if you fill out the form via PDF, you may only list up to 4. 

    • Question 3: Which schools should I list on my FAFSA?

      Simply put, you should list any school that you are planning on applying to on your FAFSA form, regardless of whether or not you have been accepted. 

      Quick tips for filling out the FAFSA:

      -Double and triple-check that your name and SSN match what is listed on your Social Security card

      -Make sure you enable pop-ups from fafsa.ed.gov to ensure that the application functions properly

      -Create a save key at the beginning of the application, which you can use if you want to complete the form in multiple sittings while still saving your information as you go. Make sure you write your save key down!

      Step 4: Sign and submit. 

      Make sure that you sign in with your FSA ID when you go to sign and submit your FAFSA, as this will ensure that the form is processed correctly and quickly.

      Once you have submitted your form, you should automatically receive a confirmation email (check your spam/junk mail too!).  

      *Tip from me: If you have a sibling who also needs a FAFSA form filled out, check your confirmation page for the option to have the parent information transferred to the other student’s application.

    • Question 4: What do I do once I’ve submitted my FAFSA?

      Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you can log into your account at fafsa.gov (with your FSA ID username and password) to check on the status of your application.

      Within a few weeks of submitting your application, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which is essentially a summary of all of the information you submitted in your FAFSA. It is your job to go through your SAR and make sure all of the information is 100% correct! 

    • Question 5: When and how do I find out how much aid I am eligible to receive?

      Once you have been accepted to a college or university that was listed on your FAFSA, that school will send you either an electronic or paper offer (aka award letter) which will tell you how much aid you are eligible to receive. 

      *Tip from me: Once you have received your award letter, it is important to go through it and understand exactly what types of aid are being offered (loans vs grants/scholarships), what aid you really need, and then decide what you are going to accept

    Conclusion & More Resources

    Now, you should be fully versed on what the FAFSA is, how to fill it out, and what to do once you have received your aid offer. For more information on the FAFSA, check out our bonus resources below!

    How to transfer tax information into your FAFSA

    “After the FAFSA: What Happens Next?” Video

    Other Recommended Reading

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