Without financial aid, college can be expensive! Submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help curb the cost of your education. To make the process easier, here are a few tips:
1. Know what you need before you start.
These are the things you’ll want to have handy (for both you and your parents!):
- Your Social Security Number OR your Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen
- Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. You might be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This saves time and reduces your odds of being selected for FAFSA Verification.
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- An FSA ID to sign electronically (read on to learn how to create this!)
This list compiled from fafsa.ed.gov
2. Know where to start.
Before you start working on the FAFSA form itself, take a few minutes to create an FSA ID. Both student and parent need to have their own. The FSA ID is used to electronically sign the FAFSA application before you submit it. To create an FSA ID, you need your name, date of birth, and social security number or alien registration number. You’ll also need an email address. After you create your FSA ID, you can get started on the application.
3. File early.
The longer you wait to fill out your FAFSA form, the longer it will be before colleges reach out to you with your financial aid award letters. As soon as you have those award letters, you can start comparing the prices of your potential colleges! Also know that there may be less financial aid available as more students are accepted and offered scholarships and grants—so don’t wait.
4. Read carefully and double check your info:
This is super important, especially when it comes to entering social security numbers. It’s difficult to go back and change if you enter your number incorrectly. Another thing to watch is whose information your entering. The FAFSA application labels each page with either “STUDENT” or “PARENT” but it can still be easy to mix up.
5. Know the terms associated with the FAFSA:
While filling out your FAFSA form, you might run into a few new words—or some new abbreviations—like FSA ID, SAR, EFC, and others. If you’re not sure what these mean, here’s a quick guide to some of the most common ones you’ll run into!
6. You can use a mobile device if you don’t have access to a desktop computer.
StudentAid.gov is designed to work well on both desktop computers and mobile devices. So if you don’t have access to a desktop computer, don’t fret! You can always complete the FAFSA on a smart phone.
7. Check with your high school for additional resources.
Many high schools offer FAFSA workshops and most high schools will have someone you can talk to if you have questions about your FAFSA form. If you’re not sure who that person is, ask one of your teachers and they should be able to point you in the right direction.
An extra note for the students whose parents are undocumented:
As long as you (the student) have documentation, you are eligible to receive financial aid—regardless of whether your parents are documented. Just know there are some differences in the process. Two key things:
- Without a social security number, your parents won’t be able to create an FSA ID. This means that instead of signing the FAFSA electronically, your parents will have to print out a signature page, sign it, and mail it in. When filling out the FAFSA, there will be an time when you will be asked for your parent’s social security number. Here, enter all zeros (000-00-000). If the form doesn’t accept the number the first time, try again. And again. After several attempts, the form should accept the number.
- Undocumented parents will also be unable to import their tax information with the IRS data retrieval tool, so all tax information will need to be entered manually. This isn’t a big deal, it just takes a little extra time.
If you need any additional assistance, contact the financial aid office at the colleges you are applying—they’re there to help you!