Start the 2016-2017 FAFSA Tutorial: The FAFSA in 7 Easy Steps
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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.
This tutorial is based on the free full-length book, Filing the FAFSA: The Edvisors Guide to Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, 2016-2017 Edition. The book is more detailed than this tutorial, and includes advice on how to avoid common FAFSA errors, increase your eligibility for student aid, and appeal for more financial aid.
Use the Correct Year’s Form
From January 1 to June 30 of each year, you’ll notice that there are two versions of the FAFSA available online at FAFSA.ed.gov:
- Upcoming academic year (2016-2017 FAFSA — July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017)
- Current academic year (2015-2016 FAFSA — July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016)
Be sure to select the correct year’s FAFSA so you don’t end up filing out the form twice!
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
- Check the FAFSA deadlines for your college and your state
Collect your personal paperwork, including income tax forms
- 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 at school).
Don't Wait to File the FAFSA
You should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after January 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.
- 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 2016-2017 paper FAFSA,
student-related items are in orange and parent-related items are in purple.
(In 2017-2018 the student section will be green, followed by dark blue in 2017-2018, yellow in 2018-2019, and then it will return to orange. 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 January 1 of each year. Students who file the FAFSA in January, February, and March 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 2016-2017 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.