Students who wish to apply for financial aid to help pay for college must complete and submit the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) form. This form is available online at studentaid.gov and must be filled up on the same portal. Alternatively, a printed form is also available and can usually be picked up from a FAFSA graduate school’s financial aid office or downloaded from studentaid.gov (for the school year 2021-2022). If one gathers all the required information well before one starts the application process, it will be easier to complete the FAFSA form in no time. To fill it out completely, here are a few things that are needed:
- An FSA ID
- Social Security Number
- Alien Registration Number (for non-U.S. citizens) 3DDriver’s License Number (optional)
- Previous Year’s Tax Records
- Records of Untaxed Income
- Records of Assets (Money)
- List of Schools (Interested in Attending)
- A personal e-mail Address For dependent students:
- Social Security Number of Parents
- Income & Financial Records of Parents
Note: The FAFSA form for 2020-2021 has been available since October 1, 2019. Depending on the state of legal residence, the submission deadline varies, but for students of most states, the submission deadline is June 30, 2021. It is advisable to apply early as many awards are given on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Once the required information is made available and ready, the application in itself is pretty much straightforward, broken down into a few steps/sections:
- Step 1. Student Information: Personal & Education
This section is where the applicant needs to fill in details such as name, date of birth, social security number, e-mail address, etc. Having an FSA ID will prepopulate much of this information, saving time and effort. In addition to this information, some basic education-related information is sought, such as current study, grade level, graduation, etc.
- Step 2. Student Information: Finance & Marital Status
Carrying on with this section could be made easy by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, accessed through the ‘Link to IRS’ button. Doing so can populate much of the information asked for, but for those who may be ineligible to transfer tax information from the IRS, there is always the option of filling up the form manually. This section also deals with the student’s marital status, and one should truthfully choose from never married, separated, divorced, widowed, or not married and provide relevant details as well.
- Step 3. Student Information: Dependency Status
The dependency status seeks to establish whether the applicant is an ‘independent’ student or needs to submit their parents’ tax information. Most of the questions here require a simple “yes” or “no” answer, but one must be careful to read the question properly and answer without a doubt.
- Step 4. Parent Information: Demographics of Parents
Based on the answers provided in Step 3, the student needs to either fill in the information asked for in Step 4 or skip it and move on to Step 5. If the answer to every question in Step 3 is “no”, then Step 4 is required to be filled. On the other hand, if the answer to any question in Step 3 is “yes”, then Step 4 may be skipped entirely. Either way, this section deals with information of the parents, much like how Step 1 deals with that of Students.
- Step 5. Student Information: Dependency Status (Additional)
Students should complete this section only if they answered “yes” to any question in Step 3. There are only a few questions in this section that are in line with those asked in Step 3.
- Step 6. Student Information: Selection of School
Regardless of whether the student has applied to a College or not, they are at liberty to choose up to 10 Colleges at a time (maximum of 4 in case of a paper FAFSA form) without having to worry about applying to them or being accepted by any of them. Data of Colleges that the student will ultimately end up not attending will be securely discarded. Furthermore, no College can see the list of choices, so it wise to select as many as possible at this stage. There is a handy search tool that makes this step easy, provided, of course, the applicant knows at least the state where the college is located and either the city or name of the College.
- Step 7. Student & Parent: Signing & Submitting the FAFSA Form
Independent students can sign and submit the FAFSA form independently, without parents having to do so. However, those who qualify as dependent students need their parents to sign the form as well. If such is the case, both parents (1 and 2) will also have FSA IDs and enter them before submitting the form.
Once the form is submitted, FAFSA will start processing it, and the applicant can monitor its progress by logging into studentaid.gov with their FSA ID. Schools selected by the applicant will automatically receive information from FAFSA, and if selected for admission, will tailor a financial aid package for the applicant.
Important: FAFSA application must be done every year, not only at the time of seeking admission.