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The U.S. Department of Education makes PDF versions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) available for students who want to complete a printed form. This article links to the two most recent PDF versions of the FAFSA. Prior year versions can be found in the FAFSA archive.
Most people, however, prefer to complete the form online, since FAFSA on the Web (FOTW) at www.fafsa.ed.gov is easier to complete and process, and also more accurate. The online FAFSA has built-in edit checks that catch and correct many common errors. It also bypasses the need for the student to mail and the U.S. Department of Education to scan the printed form.
Select the school year for which you are applying for financial aid. For example, if you plan to attend college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, select 2015-2016 School Year (July 1, 2015 - June 30, 2016). Most students should select that year. Students who are already enrolled in college and want to file for the current academic year should select the previous year's FAFSA.
(Students who want to apply for financial aid for a summer session should check with the college they plan to attend to verify which year's FAFSA to complete. Some colleges treat the summer session as a trailer, tacking it onto the end of the previous academic year. Others treat it as a header, tacking it onto the beginning of the next academic year.)
There are two ways to use the PDF version of the FAFSA. One involves printing the FAFSA and completing it manually. The PDF version of the FAFSA is also screen-fillable. A screen-fillable form can be completed on the computer before printing, yielding a more-readable result. Unfortunately, the PDF version of the FAFSA does not currently allow applicants to save the data.
When printing the PDF version of the FAFSA, print it one-sided, not two-sided. This will make it easier for the federal processor to scan the form. Mail the FAFSA in a larger envelope to avoid the need to fold the form. Folding the FAFSA can add creases that may introduce scanning errors. Keep in mind that submitting the paper FAFSA rather than completing and submitting the FAFSA electronically will result in a longer processing time by the U.S. Department of Education. This potential delay may jeopardize the timely submission of the aid application by a school's published deadline. Some schools base their deadlines on the date they receive the application from the federal processor, not the date the student submitted the application. Since some schools award funds on a first-come, first served-basis, students filing in a paper format may find themselves at a disadvantage for receiving financial aid funds from the college.
Some students prefer to practice on paper before completing the online FAFSA. A worksheet is available specifically for this purpose. The FAFSA on the Web Worksheet lists the documents needed to complete the FAFSA.
Edvisors guide to Filing the FAFSA provides a roadmap to completing the FAFSA thoroughly, correctly and quickly. The book is available for free in PDF format from Edvisors and for a fee in paperback from Amazon.com.
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