- College applications are coming due, but don’t forget about how you plan to pay for school.
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, can help you find grants and loans.
- Be sure to complete and submit it for the best chance to get the most money.
Most college applications are just about due, but don’t forget your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which can help you find money to pay for school.
Tea free application, also known as FAFSA, gives students easy access to the largest source of financial aid for college or career school. Students complete the form to apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, work-study, and loans. Many states and colleges and some private financial aid providers also use FAFSA information to determine if you qualify for their aid.
Half of parents with college-bound kids say price is the biggest influence on their child’s choice of school, according to Discover Student Loans’ annual survey of 1,000 parents, released in September. And with the highest inflation in a generation this year, 58% of parents said they weren’t planning to apply for federal aid but changed their minds. More than half (53%) said they feel they can’t afford to pay for as much of their child’s tuition as they had planned.
When is FAFSA due?
FAFSA is available on Oct. 1 every year, but there are many submission deadlines.
Many states and colleges set priority deadlines by which you must submit the FAFSA form to be considered for the aid programs they administer.
You can check state deadlines or whom to contact to find it out here.
For individual college deadlines, check the school’s website or contact its financial aid office. School deadlines are usually early in the year, often in February or March. .
Make sure you know what the school’s definition of an application deadline is: Is it the date your FAFSA form is processed or the date the college receives your processed FAFSA data?
The federal deadline is 11:59 pm CT, June 30. Any corrections or updates you need to make after you’ve turned in the application must be submitted by 11:59 pm CT on Sept. 9. Five states – Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, New Hampshire – require high school students to complete FAFSA to graduate to ensure they don’t leave money on the table.
Tip: Even though FAFSA deadlines seem far away, submit your application as soon as possible, even if you’re not sure you’ll attend school, for the best chances of getting the most money. Some states and schools have limited funds, and those are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
What will I need to complete the application?
Your personal and financial information and depending on what your citizenship and other circumstances are, some of the following:
- Social Security number
- Parents’ Social Security numbers, if you are a dependent student
- Driver’s license number, if you have one
- Alien Registration number, if you’re not a US citizen
- Federal tax information, tax documents, or tax returns, including IRS W-2 information, for you (and your spouse, if you’re married) and your parents, if you’re a dependent student:
- IRS Form 1040
- Foreign tax return or IRS Form 1040-NR
- Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau
- Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, for you, and your parents, if you’re a dependent student
- information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home you live in); and business and farm assets for you and your parents, if you’re a dependent student
Where do I find the application to complete and file?
There are three ways to file your FAFSA:
- The best way is to go to the FAFSA website and create an FSA ID (account username and password combination), if you don’t already have one, or log in to apply online if you do. A FSA ID is recommended because it gives you access to certain information online and allows you to sign your FAFSA form and promissory notes electronically.
Tips: Near the beginning of the FAFSA application, you’ll create a “save key,” a temporary password that you’ll use if you start your FAFSA form and then save it to finish it later. Students and parents can use this function to access the FAFSA form if they are completing the application in separate locations. (Unlike the FSA ID, which needs to be kept private, it’s okay to tell your parent your save key.)
Also, if you’re applying for a summer session, contact the college’s financial aid office to find out which school year you should select when you complete your FAFSA form.
- You can also complete a FAFSA PDFbut you’ll have to print and mail it for processing.
- Or you can request a print-out of the FAFSA PDF by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243); then fill out the form and mail it for processing.
How does the school I’m applying to get my application for aid?
You’ll list at least one school (and up to 10 online or four on a FAFSA PDF) on your form to receive your information. Use the Federal School Code Search to find the colleges you’re interested in including on your FAFSA form. Schools you list on the application will automatically receive your FAFSA electronically. If you use the FAFSA PDF, you can add more schools on your form later.
For federal student aid purposes, the order of schools for your college list doesn’t matter. However, some states require you to list schools in a particular order so check whether your state has a requirement.
What happens after I sign and submit my application?
You can track your application online by logging into your account online with your FSA ID or contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center.
A school might also have other forms for you to complete to be considered for school aid, so check with the school’s financial aid office.
Shortly after submitting your FAFSA, you will get a Student Aid Report (SAR) that you should check for accuracy and make any corrections or updates by 11:59 pm CT on Sept. 9.
The SAR may also say you’ve been selected for verification, which means your school will request additional documentation by the school’s deadline that supports the information you reported.
How do I find out how much help I get?
The school you listed will calculate your aid and send you an electronic or paper aid offer, sometimes called an award letter. Aid offers could come as early as winter (awarding for the fall) or as late as immediately before you start school, depending on when you apply and how the school schedules the award offers.
When you receive the offers, understand what’s being offered. For instance, is it free money such as a grant or scholarship, or is it a loan that you’ll have to pay back?
Next, decide what aid you need, and then respond to the school’s aid offer by the school’s deadline.
How is aid paid out?
Once you accept aid, your school will explain how and when your aid will be distributed and if you need to complete any more paperwork or meet other requirements. For example, if you’re receiving a federal student loan for the first time, you’ll have to sign a promissory note, or contract saying you’ll pay back the loan, and go through entrance counseling.
What if I need help during any part of this process?
Try going to the Federal Student Aid’s help page to find answers.
If you can’t find answers, you also can contact a person there by email, phone or live chat.
Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.