A beginner's guide to FAFSA

The FAFSA is used by schools to put together your financial aid package, which can include grants, work-study, federal student loans, and even state and school financial aid.

Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. Applications can be submitted starting October 1 at FAFSA.gov.

  • Apply every year. You need to fill out the FAFSA for each award year you are or plan to be a student.
  • Be on time. Aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so know your deadlines and apply as early as you can to maximize your financial aid.
  • Think local. College and state financial aid deadlines vary by state, and can be as early as February or March of your senior year of high school.

The Beginner’s Guide to FAFSA


How to complete the FAFSA

Step 1: Gather all the information you'll need.

  • Your drivers' license and Social Security number
  • Your parents' Social Security numbers and birthdates
  • Your family’s latest federal income tax returns
    For example: If you're applying for financial aid for AY 2017-18, you'll use your 2015 tax return.
  • W-2 forms
  • Bank statements
  • Information on your family's investments

Step 2: Bookmark FAFSA.gov.

  • This is where you get your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID and submit the FAFSA.
  • Don't fall for scams. The only site you should use to fill out and submit your application is FAFSA.gov
  • There's no charge for submitting the FAFSA.
  • The site also has the most up-to-date information on upcoming changes.

Step 3: Submit your FAFSA.

  • The easiest and fastest way is to file online with your FSA ID. Your application will be processed within 3-5 days.
  • You can mail in a paper application, but the processing time will take about 7-10 days.

Financial aid myths busted

Myth: My family's income is too high to qualify for federal financial aid.
Fact: Student and family income isn’t the only factor that the government uses to decide if a student qualifies. The only way to know for sure is to fill out the FAFSA.

Myth: My family has money saved for college so we won't get any aid.
Fact: Savings might not be a major factor when a school decides if a student qualifies for federal Direct Unsubsidized loans. There are allowances for savings and assets.

Myth: My sibling wasn't eligible for much financial aid last year, so I won't be eligible when I enter college.
Fact: Actually, the number of family members in college might have a favorable impact on your financial aid eligibility.

Myth: I’m only attending college part-time, so I won't be eligible for financial aid.
Fact: Financial aid is available for part-time students. Talk to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in attending about aid for part-time students.

 No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. See official rules at SallieMae.com/SweepstakesRules.

 This information was gathered on 9/14/16 from https://fafsa.ed.gov/help/fotwfaq66.htm.

 This information was gathered on 9/14/16 from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/financial-aid-myths.pdf.

 This information was gathered on 9/14/16 from http://www.finaid.org/savings/myths.phtml.

 This information was gathered on 9/14/16 from http://www.finaid.org/educators/pj/householdsize.phtml.

 This information was gathered on 9/14/16 from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/eligibility/basic-criteria.