The U.S. Department of Education estimates that completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will take most students about an hour. This may be true, if the student has gathered together all of the relevant financial information and other documents ahead of time. Even less time is needed for the Renewal FAFSA, since this version of the FAFSA just requires the applicant to update the original FAFSA with current information.
Here are some tips on using the FAFSA web site for completing the FAFSA:
Make sure you're on the correct website - People often misspell FAFSA, referring to it as FASFA or FASA. This can cause applicants to find the wrong web site. The correct web site is www.fafsa.ed.gov. Note that web site address ends in .gov, not .com or another top level domain. The government's FAFSA site is free - there is no charge for filing the FAFSA.
Complete the correct year's FAFSA - From January 1 to June 30 of each year, there are two versions of the FAFSA available. One is for the current award year and the other is for the upcoming award year. Be sure to file the correct year's FAFSA. For about 90 percent of applicants this will be the FAFSA for the fall.
Determine college and state deadlines for the FAFSA - Although the FAFSA has an 18-month application cycle for federal aid, FAFSA application data is also used to apply for state and institutional aid, which can have much earlier deadlines. About a dozen state FAFSA deadlines are in February and March, and a half dozen or so states award state grants on a first-come, first-served basis until the money runs out. Many college FAFSA deadlines are in January and February.
Plan ahead - Gather the necessary information like Social Security Numbers, driver's license, income tax returns and investment records in advance. A complete listing of the documents needed to complete the FAFSA can be found in the Edvisors Guide to Filing the FAFSA. The list also appears in an excerpt from the book, as part of a tutorial for completing the FAFSA. Some people find it helpful to use the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet for a preview of the questions on the FAFSA.
Get a PIN - The student (and his or her parents, if the student is a dependent student) will need to sign the FAFSA. Using a PIN to sign the FAFSA electronically is by far the fastest and most reliable way to complete the FAFSA. The U.S. Department of Education cannot process the FAFSA until all required signature(s) are received. The student and custodial parents must each have their own PIN. Get a PIN at www.pin.ed.gov.
Save your work frequently - While completing the FAFSA on www.fafsa.ed.gov, save your work frequently. Not only does this keep the data safe and secure in case of network or computer crashes, but it allows applicants to pause the form and finish it later (e.g., after looking for a missing account statement or other documentation). But don't delay completing the FAFSA, since some states and colleges have very early deadlines. The saved information may be restored and edited for 45 days or until after the deadline for submitting an original FAFSA or correction.