Your Guide to the FAFSA as a First-Time Applicant

The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid allows you to be considered for financial aid from federal and state governments, and many colleges and universities.  Each year, the FAFSA opens on October 1 for the following school year, so mark your calendars or set a reminder in your phone. It’s best to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible, so you can be considered for the maximum amount of financial aid possible. Follow our steps below to complete and submit the FAFSA:  

Step 1: Create Your FSA ID 

Your FSA ID is the username and password that will grant access to certain Department of Education websites. It will also help verify your identity and serve as your digital signature for your FAFSA. If you are a dependent student, then your parent/guardian will need to create an FSA ID as well. 

Step 2: Gather Important Documents 

You’ll need to dig in the archives for the items below: 

  • Your Social Security Number 
  • Parents’ Social Security Numbers (if you’re a dependent student) 
  • Driver’s License Number (if applicable) 
  • Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. Citizen) 
  • Federal Tax Information including W-2 information for you (and your spouse, if you are married) and your parents (if you’re a dependent) from two years prior (i.e. 2022-2023 school year will use 2020 tax info) 
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student  
  • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student 

Once you’ve input all this information, be sure to keep these documents in a safe, but accessible location in case you  

Step 3: Start the FAFSA 

You created your FSA ID, you tracked down your documents, and October 1 is here! It’s now time to start your FAFSA. Head on over to fafsa.gov and click “Start Here.” Be sure to use ONLY fafsa.gov. From there, you can also use the myStudentAid mobile app. Unfortunately, there are scammy websites out there that are named and look very similar to the real website that will charge for filing your FAFSA. You should NEVER pay to file your FAFSA! Once you start a new application, you can create a save key. Make sure you don’t skip this step, so you can save your work and return where you left off, if you don’t complete the FAFSA in one sitting. 

Step 4: Are You a Dependent?  

The FAFSA will ask you several questions to determine your dependency status. In general, you are considered a dependent for FAFSA purposes if:  

  • You are under the age of 24, 
  • Unmarried,  
  • And not a member of the military.  

If you are classified as a dependent and feel you have an extenuating circumstance, we’d recommend connecting with your college financial aid office regarding your individual situation. 

Step 5: Input Financial Information 

This section is where you input your tax and financial information. If you are considered a dependent, you will input your parents’ information as well. Pro tip: if you have the option to use the “IRS data retrieval tool,” do it! This allows your tax return to automatically sync with your FAFSA. 

Step 6: Select FAFSA Recipients 

Colleges need your FAFSA information to be able to award financial aid. You are required to list one school, but you can add up to 10. Some states have specific requirements for how you need to list schools on your FAFSA in order to be considered for state grant aid, and you can review those guidelines on the Federal Student Aid website. The colleges on your list will then use your FAFSA to determine both the type and amount of aid they’ll offer you upon acceptance.  

Step 7: Sign and Submit the FAFSA 

One last thing: you must sign your FAFSA application using your FSA ID and hit “submit.” You’ll know you’ve successfully submitted your FAFSA once you’ve seen the confirmation page. You will also get an email confirmation of your submission. If you happen to have a sibling in college who is also a dependent, this confirmation page will allow you to transfer your parents’ info to their FAFSA as well. Be sure that your parent(s) sign your FAFSA, too!  

If you’re ever stuck on anything FAFSA related, you are not alone! Be sure to seek help from your high school counselor, college admissions counselor, or your prospective college’s financial aid office. Good luck!