College  |  August 19, 2022  |  Bryana Blanco

FAFSA® 101: 5 Tips for Applying

What you’ll learn
  • Why you need to submit a FAFSA® to get money for college
  • The only website you should use to fill out the FAFSA®
  • What you’ll need to complete the FAFSA®
  • Why it’s important to apply early

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is an important part of paying for college. It’s also a big responsibility for students and can feel overwhelming at first. But don’t stress—I’ve helped tons of my friends file it, and I can help you, too, with these FAFSA® application tips.

5 Tips for Completing the FAFSA®

1. Get to know the FAFSA® website

The government website https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa is the official source for filling out and submitting your FAFSA®. Bookmark that page to so you can find it easily. And, as its name says, it’s a “Free Application.” Don’t trust any website that claims otherwise or asks for payment.

2. Gather your info

There’s certain information you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA®. It's best to have it with you before starting the application so you can finish in about 20 minutes. Have this information handy:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your driver’s license number
  • Your/your parents’ federal tax return
    • If you’re claimed as a dependent, you’ll need your parents’ federal tax return. 
    • If you’re independent, use your own return. 
    • You’ll use your federal tax return from two years ago—if you’re applying for the 2022-2023 academic year, use your 2020 tax return.
  • Any other documents showing reported income
  • Schools you’ll be attending/you’re interested in attending

Here’s a useful guide to filling out and submitting the FAFSA®.

3. Have your FSA ID and account ready

If this is your first time filling out the FAFSA®, you'll need to create an account and a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. Save this ID and password in a safe place—it’s information you’ll need to log in, save your application, and submit your Renewal FAFSA® next year. 

Your parents may also need to create an ID if they’re providing their information, so it might be a good idea to ask them to get one before you start on the application.

4. Have a reliable internet connection and a private area to fill out your application

You want to be able to start your FAFSA® application and finish it at the same time, so go somewhere with a stable connection and use a private computer (if at all possible).

Also, you’ll be using personal information that should be kept private for your safety, so try filling out the form alone or in a place where others can’t easily view your screen.

5. Apply early

This is one of the most important FAFSA® tips I can offer. The earlier you apply, the more financial aid you may be able to receive. Plus, you'll get this “to-do” item out of the way and go back to focusing on your studies.

More time equals more opportunities to make a plan to pay for college including more time to apply for scholarships.

Happy FAFSA®!

I hope these tips help you fill out the FAFSA® and give you a better understanding of how students can get all the financial aid they can.


Sallie Mae does not provide financial, tax, or legal advice and the information contained in this article does not constitute tax, legal, or financial advice. Sallie Mae does not make any claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in this article. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisors regarding any financial strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Sallie Mae. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.

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