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A Helpful Guide to Completing the FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Financial Aid) may seem like a daunting process, but it's the only way you can enter into the running for federal and state student aid, as well as many scholarships, student loans, and work-study programs. It's also an extremely advantageous way to help pay for school, as many people wind up being eligible for at least some aid.

You can also fill out a paper copy of the FAFSA (available at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/options.htm, or by calling 1-800-FED-AID), but filing your FAFSA online is the quickest and easiest way to apply because:

  1. FAFSA online has built-in help to guide you through the application process.
  2. The schools you list on your application will receive your processed information faster and you will find out how much aid you quality for faster.

Before You Apply

  • Get a PIN Number

    The first thing you'll want to do to begin filling out your FAFSA online is get a PIN number. This is the easiest and fastest way to sign your application online and get it processed.

    You can get one by going to: pin.ed.gov

    You'll need to fill out some personal information, including your social security number, to obtain your PIN number.

    You can use your PIN every year like a password to fill out a FAFSA and access your Federal Student Aid records online. Your PIN is similar to a debit card code or PIN number as you use it to electronically sign your FAFSA and verify that you are the person submitting the information.

    Your PIN will be a 4 digit code that you can either choose yourself, or have randomly assigned.

    You can choose to receive your PIN 3 different ways:

    1. View it immediately online.
    2. Have it emailed to you instantly.
    3. Have it mailed to your home address within 7 to 10 days.

    Do not share your PIN with anyone, and be sure to keep it in a safe place so you can use it again.

  • Complete Your Income Tax Return

    Before you apply, you (and your parents, if you're a dependent) should complete your income tax returns. A lot of the information needed for your tax returns is also needed to fill out the FAFSA. However, be aware that you don't need to have filed your income tax return with the IRS in order to apply for FAFSA.

  • Gather Your Documents

    To begin entering the necessary information into your FAFSA, you'll need to gather together the following documents:

    • Your social security card, or your correct social security number.
    • Your driver's license (If you have one).
    • Your most recent W2 forms and any other records of money you've earned in the past year.
    • Your (and your spouse's, if you're married) most recent Federal Income Tax Return.
    • Your parents' most recent Federal Income Tax Return (If you're a dependent student).
    • Your most recent untaxed income records.
    • Your current bank statements.
    • Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond and other investment records.
    • Your alien registration or permanent resident card (If you are not a U.S. citizen).
  • Fill Out a FAFSA Worksheet

    Filling out the FAFSA Worksheet is a good way to get started organizing the information and documents you've collected so you'll be more easily able to transfer the information to the actual FAFSA application.

    The Worksheet is available here: studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/fafsaworksheet.jsp


Completing the FAFSA Application

Know Your Deadlines!

  • Federal Deadlines:

    Online applications must be submitted by midnight Central Daylight Time, June 30, 2012.

    Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Daylight Time, September 15, 2012.

  • State and College Deadlines:

    Go to edutrek.com/for-students/2012-2013-ACT-SAT-FAFSA-and-College-Financial-Aid-Deadlines for a complete list of deadlines by state.

    Each college may have a different deadline. Check with the colleges you are applying to or interested in attending to find out their individual deadlines.

  • If You Have Questions:

    If you have questions about filling out any individual section of the FAFSA, the government has published a great document with a question-by-question breakdown of how to fill it out (starting on page 29), at: studentaid.ed.gov/students/publications/completing_fafsa/index.html


What Happens After You Apply/Receive Your Aid

  • You can check the status of your FAFSA by going online to fafsa.gov, clicking on "Start Here," and going to the "Log In" page.

  • If you apply online and provide your e-mail address, you will receive information about your application within 3 to 5 days.

  • If you apply online but do not provide your e-mail address, you will get a letter in the mail about your application within 2 to 3 weeks.

  • If you apply via paper you will also receive a letter in the mail within 2 to 3 weeks.

  • Information about your application will come in the form of a SAR, or Student Aid Acknowledgement, from the federal government. This will include data on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

  • Aid from federal student aid programs will be paid to you through the school you wind up attending, and the school will notify you of your aid package.

  • Generally, your school will use your aid first to pay your tuition, fee charges, and room and board, and then any remaining aid will go to you for other education-related expenses.