Start the 2018 - 2019 FAFSA Tutorial: The FAFSA in 7 Easy Steps

Download our free PDF:

Follow these steps:

  1. Account Creation and Login
  2. Student Financial Information
  3. School Selection
  4. Dependency Status
  5. Parent Demographics
  6. Student Demographics
  7. Sign and Submit

This step-by-step guide makes completing the FAFSA much easier. It explains what each question means and how the answers affect your eligibility for need-based financial aid.

Want more information? Download our free guide, Filing the FAFSA® 2018-2019 edition.

Use the Correct Year’s Form

From October 1 to June 30 of each year, you’ll notice that there are two versions of the FAFSA available online at

  • Upcoming academic year (2018-2019 FAFSA — July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019)
  • Current academic year (2017-2018 FAFSA — July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018)

Be sure to select the correct year’s FAFSA so you don’t end up filing out the form twice!

2018-2019 FAFSA Get Started Page

If you prefer to print and complete your FAFSA on paper, you can download a PDF version in English or Spanish from the FAFSA form archive. (FAFSA forms from previous years are also available.)

Before Starting the FAFSA

Download Checklist: Documents Needed to File the FAFSA

  1. Check the FAFSA deadlines for your college and your state
    • If you aren’t sure which school you will be attending, be sure to check the FAFSA deadlines for each school you are considering attending.
    • Your state is the state of your permanent legal residence (where you live now, not where you will live when you are attending college).
  2. Collect your personal paperwork, including income tax forms

Don't Wait to File the FAFSA

You should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1, even if you haven’t:

  • Filed your federal income tax returns
  • Been admitted to a college

Some states and colleges have early deadlines. You don’t want to miss out on any student aid funds.

It’s OK to file the FAFSA with estimated income and tax information based on pay statements, W-2s, or 1099 forms or even the previous year’s income tax returns. You’ll just need to update the income and tax information on the FAFSA after federal income tax returns are filed. You can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which makes this step easy.

Quick Tips

  • When the FAFSA refers to “I,” “You,” “Your,” etc., it is referring to the student (not the parent, family, or FAFSA preparer).
  • Always double check even basic demographic items (name, Social Security Number, email address, mailing address, and zip code) for typos and errors.
  • Errors and omissions will delay your FAFSA; so check all responses carefully.
  • Colors matter. When you complete the FAFSA online, the sections containing student information are blue, and the sections containing parent information are purple. Each year’s paper FAFSA form has a different color scheme. For the 2018-2019 paper FAFSA, student-related items are in dark blue and parent-related items are in purple. (In 2019-2020 the student section will be yellow, and then it will return to orange in 2020-2021.) The parent section is always in purple.)
  • The FAFSA is a free form. You don't need to pay to submit or have the form processed.
  • You need to re-apply for financial aid every year.
  • File the FAFSA as early as possible. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and some states have very early FAFSA deadlines for state aid. File the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1 of each year. Students who file the FAFSA in the first three months of the FAFSA submission cycle tend to receive more than twice as much grant funding, on average, as students who file the FAFSA later.

About This Tutorial

This tutorial is based on the demo version of the 2018-2019 FAFSA on the Web. Any personal information in the FAFSA on the Web screenshots is from a set of demo or test data provided by the U.S. Department of Education and does not come from a real application.