In this guide, you’ll learn about FAFSA for beginners.
It’s time to pay for college and your first step is FAFSA. If you’re new to applying for financial aid to afford college, you probably have a lot of questions. The more you know about the process the less stress you’ll experience.
What is FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s used to apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, loans, and work-study. It’s also used by colleges and universities to determine eligibility for financial need scholarships and grants.
The FAFSA is a form that must be completed annually to help determine your eligibility for federal student aid. The information provided on this form is used to determine the student’s expected family contribution (EFC), which allows financial aid offices to identify the types of aid the student might be eligible to receive.
Getting help with FAFSA
Before explaining how to complete FAFSA, I want you to know you can get assistance.
- High school: the best place to start is with your high school guidance counselor. You might find it beneficial to include your counselor in this process as they’ve been through it many times before.
- College and applying for your second year: consult with your financial aid office for support in properly filling out FAFSA.
- If you have access to an accountant, request a meeting with your parent’s accountant who can help maximize the potential financial aid package.
How to File and Submit FAFSA
FAFSA must be completed for each academic year. This means you’ll need to complete FAFSA for each year you plan to attend school and need financial aid.
Every student must complete FAFSA for every year you plan to attend college to be eligible for financial aid. If you’re entering your first year of college, you’ll complete FAFSA while you complete college applications. When in college, you must remember to complete and submit your FAFSA each and every year to continue receiving aid. A really great resource is the US Department of Education’s Financial Aid website.
There are three ways to complete a FAFSA:
- Online at financial aid website (recommended method for applying)
- Paper FAFSA (request a copy by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID [1-800-433-3243]).
- Apply directly through your college, university, or career school. You should check with the financial aid administrator at the school you are interested in attending to see if the school can assist you with your application.
Use the instructions in this guide to help you complete the application process. If you are online and need additional assistance with a particular question, you can use the online help found in the “Help and Hints” box on the right-hand side of the screen for each question you answer.
The application deadline is June 30th, but you’ll want to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. The financial aid process begins on October 1st. The sooner you submit your application the higher likelihood of getting a better financial aid package.
Applying Online is Recommended
- FAFSA on the Web has built-in help to guide you through the application process. You will use a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID to sign in to your account and electronically sign your application
- Skip logic in FAFSA on the Web guides you to answer key questions and may allow you to skip other questions and complete the application faster.
- The schools you list on your application will receive your processed information faster.
How to Get an FSA ID
You’ll need an FSA ID, a username and password combination 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.
Give yourself plenty of time and have the information available. To complete your FAFSA, you’ll need the following:
- Your Social Security Number
- If not a US Citizen, your Alien Registration Number
- Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- An FSA ID to sign electronically.
What Happens Next
After a few days to a week, you’ll receive an email with your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and an estimate of what aid you may be eligible to receive. The colleges you have applied to will also receive the information you’ve submitted to FAFSA. They will use the information to prepare a financial aid package for you. The aid you receive from each school will be different based on their own criteria.
Your information also goes to your state higher education agency, as well as to agencies of the states where your chosen schools are located. Many states have financial aid funds that they give out based on FAFSA information.
If the aid you receive does not cover the cost of attending, contact the school’s financial aid office to discuss your options. You can also decline any excess aid that’s above what you need to cover the cost of attending school.
What happens if you need more money to pay for college?
Consider private student loans from lenders such as banks, credit unions, and other financing companies. You can review our list of best private student loan marketplaces.
How to check FAFSA Status
You can check the status of your FAFSA immediately after submitting it online. Here’s how:
- Go to the Financial Aid website and click Start Here to log in.
If your FAFSA is still being processed, wait a few days before checking the status again.
When will you hear back from FAFSA?
When you submit the completed FAFSA form online you will get a confirmation page and receive an email confirmation. Print and or save this information to access in the future.
Between 3 days and 3 weeks after submitting the FAFSA, the Federal Student Aid office at the U.S. Department of Education will send you a Student Aid Report (SAR) which is a summary of the FAFSA data you submitted. Review the SAR to ensure the information is correct.
What is the Student Aid Report?
The Student Aid Report does not provide information on the type of aid you’ll receive. You will receive a separate letter from the colleges, universities, and career schools you’ve listed on your FAFSA. The schools will calculate your financial aid package and will send you either an electronic or paper “award letter.” The award letter will list all eligible financial aid such as loans and grants provided by the school. Each school sends awards letters at different times.
What happens if you need to update information on FAFSA?
Once your application has been processed, you can correct your FAFSA online. Making corrections online is the fastest and easiest option.
Most information cannot be changed on the FAFSA but some information can be updated to reflect the correct information. You are unable to change your Social Security Number. Contact the schools directly for any updates that may impact your financial aid packages such as changes in income or dependency status.
Hopefully, this FAFSA for beginners’ guide has helped you understand the process a bit more. But it is recommended to go direct to the US Department of Education’s Financial Aid website.