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, we’ll answer the most common questions students and parents often have when it comes to filling out the FAFSA and applying for financial aid. Plus, at the very end, you’ll even get some bonus resources and extra recommended reading 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, colleges and universities you’re applying to (or the college you currently attend) will take your information and use it to determine your eligibility for receiving federal financial aid to help you pay for school.
It’s important to note that, despite the fact that some private scholarships may require FAFSA completion in order for you to be considered, these are not the types of opportunities that you will automatically be considered for when you file the FAFSA.
If you’re looking for private scholarships of all kinds, check out my blog (posts such as Scholarships for High School Seniors, Scholarships for Women, and No Essay Scholarships are a great starting point!).
The FAFSA form is available on October 1st of each year, and you fill it out for the first time as a senior in high school.
The national FAFSA deadline for the 2022-2023 year is June 30th, 2022. However, many schools and states have their own, earlier deadlines for the FAFSA, so it’s super important that you take note of those deadlines so you don’t miss them.
Many institutions (and state-based organizations, which often require you to have filed the FAFSA) give out financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. So, In order to maximize your chances of receiving aid to pay for school, I recommend that you complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after the application opens.
Question 2: Who can file the FAFSA?
There are several eligibility requirements that students must meet in order to be eligible for federal aid through the FAFSA. The two most important requirements are related to citizenship and financial need.
In terms of citizenship, the FAFSA is available to US citizens, permanent residents, and eligible non-citizens. It is not open to international students planning on studying in the US, nor is it open to students with DACA/undocumented status.
Financial need is defined by Student Aid as the difference between your school’s Cost of Attendance (COA) and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The majority of financial aid programs run through the federal government received go to students with the highest levels of financial need.
Question 3: 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:
- Checking and savings account balances.
- Investments (stocks, bonds, real estate)
- 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:
- Apply online
- Apply via the myStudentAid mobile app
- Apply via PDF
- 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 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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.