Your Guide to the FAFSA as a First-Time Applicant

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is an important part of the college application process. Once you submit the application, you’ll be considered for financial aid from federal and state governments and many colleges and universities. The FAFSA opens on October 1 each year for the following school year. It’s a good idea to complete the FAFSA as early as possible to ensure you’re considered for the maximum amount of financial aid. 

The FAFSA application process can feel intimidating, so we’ve created a simple guide that will help make the application process as easy as possible.

Step 1: Create Your FSA ID 

Your FSA ID is the username and password that will grant you 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, your parent/guardian must create an FSA ID, too.

Step 2: Gather Important Documents 

You may need to dig deep for some of this information. Ask your parent or guardian to help you find the following documents. 

  • Your Social Security Number 
  • Parents’ or Guardians’ 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/guardians (if you’re a dependent) from two years prior (ie. 2023-2024 school year will use 2021 tax info).
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, for you and your parents/guardians if you are a dependent student.  
  • Information on cash, savings, and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds; and real estate (not including the home in which you live). Also, include any business and farm assets for you and your parents/guardians if you are a dependent student.

Once you’ve input the information above, keep these documents in a safe but accessible location in case you need them again. 

Step 3: Start the FAFSA 

You created your FSA ID, collected your documents, and October 1 is here! It’s time to start your FAFSA. Head on over to fafsa.gov and click “Start Here.” Be sure to ONLY use fafsa.gov. From there, you can also use the myStudentAid mobile app. Unfortunately, some websites look similar to the real FAFSA website, except they 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. Then you can save your work if you don’t complete your application in one sitting and return to where you left off. Don’t skip this step!

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 recommend connecting with your college financial aid office regarding your situation. 

Step 5: Input Financial Information 

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

Step 6: Select FAFSA Recipients 

Colleges need your FAFSA information to be able to award financial aid. You must list one school, but you can add up to 10. Some states have specific requirements for how you list schools on your FAFSA 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 use your FAFSA to determine the type and amount of aid they’ll offer you upon acceptance. 

Step 7: Sign and Submit the FAFSA 

You must sign your FAFSA application using your FSA ID. Once you’ve signed it, press submit! You’ll know you’ve successfully submitted your FAFSA when you see the confirmation page. You will also get an email confirmation of your submission. If you have a sibling in college who is also a dependent, this confirmation page will allow you to transfer your parents’ info to their FAFSA. Be sure that your parent(s) sign your FAFSA, too!  

If you’re ever stuck on anything FAFSA-related, you can always ask your high school counselor, college admissions counselor, or your prospective college’s financial aid office for help. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.