Prepare for the FAFSA in 5 Basic Steps

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is what helps most students afford college—so don’t miss out!  The Department of Education uses the information a family provides on their FAFSA application to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid like loans, grants, and work study. Decisions about financial aid are based on a variety of factors including parent income, family size, and number of siblings attending college in the same year.

The FAFSA application opens on October 1. There isn’t a hard and fast FAFSA deadline, but financial aid is often awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you apply the better. If you’ve never completed the FAFSA before (or if you need a refresher), here are five basic tips to get you started:

1. Gather all necessary documents and information.

Here are the things you should be sure to have:

  • 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)

You’ll need the same information from your parent(s) too. Not sure which parents you’ll need info from? Use this guide.

2. Be sure you have an active email address.

Simply put, both the student and the parent who is helping the student complete the FAFSA will need an active email account (and be sure you know the password!). Don’t have one? They’re easy to create. You can start at

3. Set aside at least an hour.

You might not need the whole hour, but it’s best not to assume you’ll zoom right through the FAFSA application. Questions might come up that could slow you down, so just take a deep breath and take your time.

4. Create a Federal Student Aid ID.

Your Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) is what you’ll use to electronically sign your FAFSA. You can also use this to log back in to your application if you need to save it and finish it another time. Both the student and the parent will need an FSA ID. It can be created by visiting

5. Start the FAFSA!

If you’ve done the above steps, you’re ready to roll. Starting on October 1, you can complete the FAFSA form at—or if you’re filing from a mobile device, download the myStudentAid app. It’s time to get to work!

Looking for more tips on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid? Check out our blog post 7 Things to Know Before Filling Out the FAFSA.