How To Fill Out the FAFSA: A Step-By-Step Guide

Written By
Julija A.
July 08,2023

Millions of students apply for financial aid to pay for college every year. The process can seem daunting, so it’s never too early to prepare. Understanding the available options and how to apply for them will get you on the right track in no time.

One of the most common financial aids is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This article will explain what FAFSA is and how it works. Additionally, we will provide step-by-step instructions on how to fill out the FAFSA form.

What Is FAFSA, and How Does It Work?

FAFSA is a form students must fill out to be considered for federal financial aid for college. Federal assistance includes grants, loans, work-study programs, and scholarships.

You must fill out the FAFSA every year that you wish to receive aid. To fill out your FAFSA, you will need your Social Security number or alien registration number if you are not a US citizen, your parents’ tax information, and your financial information. You will also need the school codes of the colleges you are applying to.

Once you have filled out your FAFSA application, it will be sent to the colleges you are applying to, and they will use it to determine how much aid you are eligible for. 

At first glance, the FAFSA may look intimidating, but it is a relatively simple form. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to fill it out, and if you have any questions, there are plenty of resources available to help you.

Why Is FAFSA Important?

FAFSA provides need-based financial aid to college or career school students.

The information you provide on your form calculates your cost of attendance for elected school and expected family contribution. Expected family contribution is not the sum your family is expected to provide toward your education budget but rather a number used by your school of choice to calculate how much financial aid you are qualified to receive. Cost of attendance focuses on the cost of the school year and includes expenses like tuition and fees, boarding, and supplies.

The US Department of Education uses a standard formula to evaluate the information you report on your FAFSA form to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive. Your family’s income and assets, family size, and the number of family members attending college or career school during the year are also considered.

FAFSA Qualifications and Requirements

To qualify for federal student aid, you must meet specific criteria set by the US Department of Education.

  • You must be a US citizen or an eligible noncitizen, such as a permanent resident or refugee. 
  • You must have a valid Social Security number and be registered with the Selective Service System if you’re a male between 18 and 25. 
  • To qualify for FAFSA, applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, such as a General Educational Development certificate. If you’re not sure whether you are eligible, you can always check with the financial aid office at your school. 
  • You must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program as a regular student for at least half-time. 
  • Finally, you can’t have any federal student loan debt in default, and you can’t owe a refund on a federal grant. 

If you meet these qualifications, you can apply for federal student aid through the FAFSA.

Filling Out the FAFSA in Six Easy Steps

Submitting your application has never been easier. You can do it online or through the app by following these six straightforward steps:

1. Collect Your FAFSA Documentation

The first step in filling out the FAFSA is to gather all of the required documentation. 

You’ll need to provide your Social Security number, current bank statements and investments, tax information, driver’s license number or state ID, records of untaxed income, and an alien registration number if you’re not a US citizen. 

If you are a dependent student, you’ll also need to provide some of your parent’s information.

2. Create an FSA ID

The next step is to create a Federal Student Aid ID. This ID will serve as your login information for the FAFSA website. You’ll use your FSA ID to sign and submit your FAFSA form online, so you mustn’t lose it.

You can create your FSA ID on the FAFSA website. You’ll need to provide your name, email, date of birth, and Social Security number. This information will appear on your official paperwork.

As soon as you create the FSA ID, you will be able to log into the website and sign in for the first-time application. However, you won’t be able to manage some other tasks, such as renewing your FAFSA or updating your information, until you have verified your identity.

3. Enter Your Student and Parent Information

The next step to apply for FAFSA is to enter student and parent information into the form. 

The information includes your Social Security number, citizenship, marital status, legal residence, and the number of people residing in your household. 

Your parents will also need to provide that same information and their date of birth and the highest level of education. If your parents are divorced or separated, the primary custodial parent will need to provide their information. The parent included in the FAFSA must create their own FSA ID.

4. Select the Schools

The form will ask you to list the schools you are interested in attending. You can list up to 10 schools. Make sure you list your top choices first, as those are the schools that will receive your FAFSA information earliest.

You’ll need the federal school code for each school you’re listing. School information is available on the FAFSA website under Federal School Code Search.

5. Provide Your Financial Information

In this part, you’ll need to answer some additional FAFSA questions and provide your financial information, such as your income, taxes, assets, and benefits. 

You’ll also need to provide your parents’ financial information if you’re a dependent student. 

The FAFSA requires tax information from the previous year, so have your most recent tax return and IRS W-2 form on hand. If you haven’t filed your tax forms yet, you can estimate your income using pay stubs.

6. Review and Submit Your Application

Now it’s time to review your application for errors. You and your parents need to sign the FAFSA form electronically or on paper when you have corrected any mistakes. 

When all this is done, and you have successfully submitted your application, you should receive a Student Aid Report within three to five days. The SAR will tell you if you’re eligible for federal student aid and how much money you can receive. 

You can also use the FAFSA website to check on the status of your application or make additional changes to your information. 

​​FAFSA Benefits

The FAFSA is used to determine a student’s need for financial assistance, and it is also used to award grants and loans. However, the FAFSA is not just for students from low-income families. Middle-class and even upper-class families may also qualify for need-based aid. 

In addition, the FAFSA is also used to award merit-based scholarships. So, whether you come from a wealthy family or a struggling one, the FAFSA can help you pay for college.

Applying for FAFSA is not only for students attending a four-year university. You can also use the aid for community college, career training, and even graduate programs. 

Bottom Line

If you’re thinking about going to college or are already enrolled in college, FAFSA could be the solution to making your college education more affordable. You should understand the application process and give yourself plenty of time to complete it.

If you have any questions on how to file a FAFSA or the financial aid process, don’t hesitate to reach out to the financial assistance office at your college or university. They will help you through the process and ensure you get the funding you need to attend school.


How long does it take for FAFSA to process?


It usually takes three to five days for FAFSA to process an application and generate a Student Aid Report (SAR).

The SAR will tell you if you’re eligible for federal aid and how much money you can receive. You can check your application status on the FAFSA website.

What qualifies you as independent for FAFSA?


There are a few factors that can make you eligible for independent status on FAFSA:

  • Being 24 years old or older
  • Being married
  • Being a veteran or active duty member of the Armed Forces
  • Being a graduate or professional student
  • Being a ward of the court
  • Being an orphan or foster child
  • Being an emancipated minor
  • Financially supporting dependent children

If you’re not sure whether you qualify for independent status or don’t know how to file FAFSA as an independent, you can contact the financial aid office at your school and check it with them.

Do you have to pay back your FAFSA?


FAFSA is only a free application for a federal student loan, not a loan itself. Therefore you do not have to pay it back. However, you will be required to repay the received student loan with interest. That is why it’s important to only borrow what you need and make sure you can afford the monthly payments before taking out a loan.

What is the maximum parent income to qualify for FAFSA?


There is no maximum income to qualify for FAFSA. However, if your family’s income is above a certain level, that may reduce the amount of financial aid you’re eligible for.

Suppose your family’s adjusted gross income is $50,000, and you’re a dependent student. In that case, you may be eligible to receive a smaller amount of financial aid than a student whose family’s adjusted gross income is $40,000.

Who qualifies for FAFSA?


To qualify for this type of financial aid, you must be a US citizen or eligible noncitizen, have a valid Social Security number, and be enrolled in a graduate or postgraduate degree or certificate program or working toward a professional license.

How long does it take to file FAFSA?


Figuring out how to fill out the FAFSA won’t take up much time: Once you have all the required documents, it should take less than an hour.

About author

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

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