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Home Fafsa FAFSA Tutorial: Step-by-Step Getting Started Filing the FAFSA

Getting Started Filing the FAFSA

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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is a form used to apply for financial aid from the federal student aid program which is offered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. However, many state governments, and most colleges and universities use the information provided on the FAFSA to also award financial aid from their own programs.

The federal student aid programs offer accessibility to federal grants, federal loans, and federal work-study. All other aid offered through other sources (like your state or school) will vary,but may also include grant and loan opportunities.

We recommend that everyone who attends an institution which offers federal financial aid complete the FAFSA. You don’t need to wait until you decide on which school you will be attending, your information can be passed on to multiple schools.

Even if you don’t believe you are eligible for financial aid, you should complete the FAFSA. It’s a myth that all financial aid is need-based.

When to File the FAFSA

The FAFSA is released on October 1 of every year for student seeking financial aid for the following fall. It is recommended you file your FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1 of the senior year in high school and each subsequent year in college. At the very least, it is strongly encouraged you complete the FAFSA before your first FAFSA deadline.

These are the deadlines you need to know/find out:

  1. Your State Deadline
  2. Your School Deadline
  3. Federal Deadline (for the 2020-2021 FAFSA, the deadline is June 30, 2021)

illustrated woman with megaphone announcing FAFSA 

The most important deadline for you: whichever comes first!

Each state uses information from the FAFSA to determine how to award state aid. State financial aid deadlines may not align with the federal deadline, so it is important to know the deadline for your state.

Most colleges and universities will require the student to re-apply for financial aid by completing the FAFSA every year they are enrolled in school. A student’s eligibility for financial aid can differ from year-to-year. Even small changes may have a big impact on the amount and types of financial aid the student will receive. Examples include changes in income, student assets, the number of children enrolled in college at the same time as well as changes to the financial aid formulas.

The earlier you file, the earlier you may find out about potential aid from colleges.

General Eligibility for the FAFSA

There are some eligibility criteria you will need to meet in order to be eligible for federal financial aid:

  1. Be a U.S. Citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  2. Have a valid Social Security number (with the exception of student from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau).
  3. Have a high school diploma, the recognized equivalent of a high school diploma (including a General Educational Development (GED) certificate), or have completed a high school curriculum in a home school setting that satisfies the state’s requirements for home schooling. (Students who first enrolled in an accredited college, university, or career school before July 1, 2012, may qualify by satisfying alternate criteria, such as passing an approved Ability-To-Benefit (ATB) test or completing six credit hours or equivalent course work toward a degree or certificate.)
  4. Be enrolled, or accepted for enrollment, as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program at a college or university that participates in federal student aid. Students who are simultaneously enrolled in elementary or secondary school are not eligible.

Note: If you do not meet this criteria, ask your school if they would still like you to complete the FAFSA®.

To qualify for federal student aid, students must:

  • Complete the FAFSA
  • Comply with verification requirements, if the student’s FAFSA is selected for verification by the college or university the student plans to attend or the federal government.
  • If you are interest in need-based financial aid, you will need to demonstrate financial need. Some federal grant, work, and loan programs require the student to demonstrate financial need. The Direct Unsubsidized Loan, Direct PLUS Loans for graduate students or parents, do not depend on financial need.
  • Sign a Statement of Educational Purpose, certifying that he or she will use federal student aid to pay for education costs only. (Students may not be enrolled in multiple colleges and universities solely to obtain federal student aid refunds (credit balances) to pay for non-educationally related expenses.)
  • Most male students must have registered with the Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 25 to be eligible for federal student aid. A failure to register must not be knowing and willful as determined by the Selective Service System. Male students between the ages of 18 and 25 may check a box on the FAFSA to register with Selective Service.

Additional Eligibility Requirements for Those Who Previously Received Federal Student Aid Funds

If you have previously received federal student aid funds, there are requirements that must be met in order to be eligible to reapply for federal student aid. The following requirements apply:

  • Not be in default on a federal student loan or owe a refund on a federal student grant or loan overpayment. If the student has borrowed in excess of annual or cumulative federal student loan limits, the student must return the excess funds to the lender.
  • Have repaid federal student aid funds obtained fraudulently.
  • Not have property subject to a judgement lien for a debt owed to the U.S. government.
  • Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study, or loans). If this applies to you, there are ways to regain your eligibility.
  • Maintaining Your Financial Aid Eligibility

    Once you are awarded financial aid, you need to maintain your eligibility. There are two requirements that must be met to continue your federal student aid eligibility each year.

    1. Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), which typically includes maintaining at least a C average (2.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale) and maintaining progress toward a degree or certificate that is consistent with graduation within 150 percent of the normal timeframe for completion.
    2. Not be convicted for the sale or possession of illegal drugs (controlled substances) while receiving federal student aid.

    Documents You Need to File the FAFSA

    The FAFSA® application may seem overwhelming, but the U.S. Department of Education has been working to simplify it. We worked hard to break down some of the steps and help guide you through the process.

    Your FSA ID

    This is the login and password credentials each user will need to complete the application. Students and parent will each need their own! To create one, go the login and provide the required information. Once you have one, keep your login information secure. You will use this to sign your application as well as log into your My Federal Student Aid account, or log into the myStudentAid mobile app.

    Your Social Security Number (SSN)

    If you do not know your SSN, you may need order a replacement card. If you do not have an SSN but meet the basic eligibility of an eligible non-citizen, you will need your Alien Registration number.

    Your 2018 Tax Records

    For the 2020-2021 FAFSA application, you will need to provide your tax records from two years ago. If you are required to report your parent’s income, they will also need their tax records. If you and/or your parents are eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, the tool will import tax information for you.

    Records of Your Untaxed Income (if you have any)

    Untaxed income includes, child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducational benefits.

    Records of Your Assets

    You will need to report the balances of certain accounts, like bank accounts, investments (like stocks and bonds), and real estate (not including the home where your family lives a.k.a. your family’s primary residence).

    A List of Schools That You Are Considering

    You should identify which schools you are considering to attend. The FAFSA allows you to list up to 10 schools, so you do not need to wait until you have made your final decision. You can always modify your school list.

    Your Driver’s License Number (if you have one)

    Financial Aid Help: Contacts to Know

    With everything that you are managing on this college journey, you may not be aware that there are FREE RESOURCES available to provide help and guidance along the way.

    1. The U.S. Department of Education

      If you are applying for federal financial aid and need help completing the FAFSA you don’t need to go it alone.

      You can contact the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-433-3243.

    2. Your School’s Financial Aid Office

      If you are having issues with your FAFSA or have questions about how to submit your information (or make corrections/changes), your financial aid office can be a great resource. If they are participating in the federal aid programs, they have completed required training, meaning they are prepared to help!

      If your school requires other financial aid applications, like the CSS Profile®, the financial aid office is prepared to help you with that as well.

      Set up an appointment with your office and write down some questions beforehand. You want to make sure you get all the answers you need to finish your aid applications.

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