Here’s how to apply for the FAFSA in 10 simple steps

Here’s how to apply for the FAFSA in 10 simple steps

The FAFSA should take about 30 minutes to complete.

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Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is how you'll qualify for various types of financial assistance, like grants, work-study, and loans. You can fill it out by yourself or with the help of your parents. If you're a dependent, you'll need your parents' financial information in addition to your own.

The FAFSA opens on October 1, 2021 for the 2022-23 school year, and is already open for the 2021-22 school year. Here's how to fill it out.

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1. Gather your personal financial information

Before you start filling out the FAFSA, you should gather your basic personal financial information. You'll need your Social Security number, and it may be useful to have the last couple of years' taxes on hand, though you'll be able to import the details directly from the IRS later on. You will also need bank and investment statements.

2. Head to the FAFSA website

FAFSA homepage
This is where you go to begin applying for the FAFSA

Head to the FAFSA website, which is located on the US Department of Education website. This is your online hub to complete your FAFSA. Choose the appropriate button for new FAFSA users or returning users.

3. Create or find your FSA ID

Login to create a FSA ID
This is where you'll log in or create your FSA ID to use for your application.

The student and parent should both have their own login for the FAFSA system. You log in with a government ID called the Federal Student Aid ID. Parents will enter the student's information first and create their FSA ID in the next step.

The FSA ID allows you to log back in and add or edit information later on if you are not able to complete the entire FAFSA today. Parents should not log in as the student or complete the student sections of the FAFSA.

4. Start your FAFSA

The FAFSA opens every year on October 1 for the following school year. It's a good idea to complete your FAFSA as early as possible. This gives you the best opportunity to qualify for the most favorable student aid options. It also gives you a little more time to make your decisions and take care of any paperwork to complete your student loan or work-study applications.

The FAFSA typically includes the following sections: Student Demographics, School Selection, Dependency Status, Parent Demographics, Parent Financials, Student Financials, and Sign & Submit.

5. Create a Save Key

The first step along the way is creating a Save Key. Like an FSA ID, this allows you to come back or continue work later on. Students should create this and give it to their parent so they can add their own information later.

Save key for FAFSA form
This is a save key, which you'll use to return to the FAFSA if needed.

6. Enter your personal and school information

Personal information section of FAFSA
This is where you'll fill out basic information like your name and Social Security number.

The first two sections in the meat of the application focus on the student's personal information and school selection. In the student demographics section, you'll need to enter your name, address, email address, phone number, driver's license number, marital status, citizenship status, Selective Service status, and education history.

College selection section of the FAFSA
You'll fill out this section by adding each college you want to send your FAFSA to.

On the School Selection tab, you will enter information about your high school and college. If you have your college's Federal School Code, you can enter it here. Or you can look it up with a search system. Once you pick your school and enter your planned housing status, you can move on to information about the household and parents.

7. Dependency and parent demographics

Next up are the sections about the student's household. The questions about dependency status help determine whether the student is financially independent or dependent on the parents for the purposes of financial aid.

The parent demographics section asks for the parents' marital status, birthdates, living situation, household size, and the other people your parents financially support.

8. Financial information

Financial information section of the FAFSA
This is where you'll input your tax information that will determine your eligibility for aid.

This section is the most important and most detailed of the entire FAFSA. While getting your name and Social Security number right are important, this is what determines what aid you are eligible for and how it is broken down between scholarships and grants, student loans, and other forms of aid.

You'll need your parents' tax information, and depending on when they filed, you may be able to import their tax details and save a lot of time typing in numbers.

You will need a parent's FSA ID to link the application to the parent's tax return. You will also need some information about your parents' assets (bank accounts and investments).

9. Sign and submit

On the last page, you will review your application for accuracy, sign, and submit the results. It's definitely worth taking the time to double check your application before signing. Once you're done, make sure your parent has also signed if required.

Signature page for the FAFSA
Make sure all your information is accurate before signing and submitting your FAFSA.

Once everyone has signed and submitted, you can move on to the final page to confirm your FAFSA.

10. Review your FAFSA results

On the confirmation page, you can scroll down to view your estimated expected family contribution. This number shows what the government thinks you can afford to pay. Work with your school's financial aid office to make up the rest.

Student loans may be a great way to help you pay for college, but make sure you really understand what you are getting into. If you navigate the student aid program with your eyes open to the details, you can make the most educated decision on what's best for your family's unique financial needs.

Related Content Module: More on Loans

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