FAFSA Application Tips & Guidance on How to Apply for the FAFSA

FAFSA Information - FAFSA tips

he most important form you need to file is the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your golden ticket to financial aid for college. Based on the information you provide on the FAFSA, you may be offered grantsscholarships, work-study and low-interest student loans by the federal government and your college or university.


The greater your financial need , the more ‘free money’ you may receive. But, who qualifies to apply using the FAFSA and where do you find the form? Follow these easy FAFSA tips to ensure you are not missing out on any available financial aid.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid has seen major improvements since the time your parents went to school. One of the biggest changes is that the FAFSA can automatically import your family’s income tax information from the IRS.

Who Can Apply for the FAFSA?

Every student, regardless of income, should file the FAFSA. You must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen (permanent resident, asylum, etc) and a high school graduate (or graduating high school senior) at the time of application. Additionally, while you (and your parents) don’t need a PIN to complete the FAFSA online, it is the fastest way to sign your application and you won’t be able access your data online without one, so get a PIN now.

When Do I Apply for the FAFSA?

Students have been able to file a 2017–18 FAFSA since Oct. 1, 2016, rather than beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. The earlier submission date is a permanent change, enabling students to complete and submit a FAFSA as early as Oct. 1 every year. 

While the federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is June 30 of the following year, each state and college has its own deadline to meet. Be sure to check with your school’s financial aid office to ensure you don’t miss out on any opportunities. In general, apply as early as you can. Some types of federal and institutional assistance are limited. By filing early, you will ensure you are considered for the most assistance available.

How do I apply for federal student aid?

You file the FAFSA using the Department of Education’s online application. If you Google ‘FAFSA’, you will receive links to other sites that will charge you for their services. Your school’s financial aid office will use the information received from your FAFSA to calculate your eligibility.

Is there a fee to file the FAFSA?

No. The FAFSA is a ‘free’ application, so you never have to pay a fee to complete this form if you file the FAFSA using the DOE’s online application. There are paid FAFSA filing services, but most families will have little difficulty completing the form without assistance.

If you do need help, you can always ask your tax preparer or a financial aid administrator at your college.

What Do I Need to File FAFSA?

Have the following items on hand before you begin the application process:

  • Driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers
  • FAFSA PIN for both the student and parent(s)
  • W-2 Forms and other financial records
  • Current Federal Income Tax Return – IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040TeleFile, foreign tax return, or tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, or the Federated States of Micronesia
  • Any untaxed income records – Social Security, welfare, veterans benefits, etc.
  • Current bank statements
  • Current business and investment information
  • Permanent residence or alien registration card (non- U.S. citizen)

With the addition of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, your current tax information will be populated directly into the FAFSA, helping to reduce both time and possible errors. Typically, it takes less than an hour to complete the form, but the effort can pay off in thousands of dollars in ‘free money’ for college. For more information, or help with the form, use the “Help” menu item at the fafsa.ed.gov.

Are there other application I will need to file?

It depends. Some schools use the CSS/Profile and they will let you know in their admissions materials if this form is required. The Profile asks more questions than the FAFSA. Some schools use it for early decision and others use it to get a more precise understanding of your financial circumstances.

In addition to the Profile, your school may ask you to provide supplemental information. They will always contact you.

Therefore, be sure to read everything (and respond promptly) to requests for information from the financial aid office. Finally, most states use the information you supply on the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for state-based financial aid. However, it’s always best to check to see if your state has an application of its own.

Do I have to file an application other than the FAFSA in order to receive federal student loans?

No. The FAFSA is your application for federal student loans including Direct Student Loans and the Perkins Loan. In order to receive your federal student loans, you will need to sign a Master Promissory Note for Direct Student Loans and, if applicable, a Federal Perkins Master Promissory Note. Promissory notes are exactly what they sound like, your signed promise to repay your loans.

How will I know if I’m eligible for financial aid?

You will receive notice of your eligibility in the form of financial aid award letters from the schools where you were accepted for admission and provided access to your FAFSA information when you applied online.

Your financial aid award letter will list the amounts and types of financial aid the school is able to offer you based on your eligibility.

 BONUS TIP: File The FAFSA Even If You Haven’t Filed Tax Returns

 If you haven’t filed, you can use estimates in order to complete the income sections of your application. Once you file, go back to FAFSA on the Web, log in and click Make FAFSA Corrections. Some programs have limited funds and are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

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