What is FAFSA?
FAFSA is a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, through the U.S. Department of Education. The application determines student eligibility for federal, state, and institutional aid programs. Each application period is 18 months, and applications must be renewed or updated annually.
While you will need detailed information regarding assets, dependency, income and identification, you will not answer questions related to race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Your student must meet the following requirements to be eligible for aid:
- is a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen;
- has a valid Social Security number;
- has a high school diploma or GED or for adult students, pass an Ability-to-Benefit test;
- promises to use federal aid for education purposes;
- does not owe refunds on federal student grants or is in default on student loans;
- has not been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs while federal aid was being received.
Some aid is distributed on a first come, first served basis, so getting your application in early is important. There are federal and state deadlines, as well as deadlines for some universities. Check the FAFSA site to find your state deadlines.
If you’re applying for the 2016-2017 school year, the federal deadline is June 30, 2017. The sooner you can submit an application, the better.
1. Before filling out a FAFSA, make sure you and your student (if applicable) have filed a 2015 income tax return with the IRS. If you need to submit your FAFSA before filing, you can submit it using estimated tax information, which you can correct after you’ve filed your return. The FAFSA site has an IRS Data Retrieval Tool to help you transfer tax information to your application.
2. Build a relationship with the gatekeepers in the financial aid office at your student’s college or the high school counselor. This can be a lifesaver when you have a financial aid question or need advice in a hurry.
3. You can either fill out your application online, print out a PDF or request a paper copy mailed to you. Sit down with your student and fill it out together.
4. Make sure you have the federal school code for your student’s top colleges (if she’s not a student yet) or her current college, so those schools will receive the FAFSA information. Your student can list up to 10 colleges.
Many colleges have FAFSA events, with financial aid staff onsite to assist in filling out applications. This is an ideal way to ask questions and be confident in the FAFSA you submit. There are also fee-based services that help to submit applications, if you can’t find an event to attend. Before paying someone to help you, we recommend checking out the secure online chat session, telephone and e-mail help through the official FAFSA site.