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FAFSA Process

FAFSA Help Guide eBook

By: FAFSA Online
How to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid - and not miss a dime of financial aid!

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To qualify for federal sources of financial aid, students must complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) to the U.S. Department of Education. Make sure you submit the FAFSA form as early as possible! Submitting this for will determine your eligibility for student aid by:

  • Applying a standard financial aid eligibility calculation to a student's and family's personal and financial information
  • Conducting checks with other government agencies (Social Security Administration and Selective Service for example) to ensure the applicant is eligible for federal student aid.
  • Electronically forwarding a record of the application to the school/schools specified by the applicant.

How Your Financial Aid Eligibility is Determined

The information on your FAFSA is the "input" that helps the government generate your Student Aid Report or SAR, which details the expected family contribution (EFC), the total amount of money that you and your family are expected to contribute to the funding of your education. The formula is fairly complicated, approximately 40 pages of math, but it boils down to:

School cost - scholarships - federal financial aid - federal student loans - other financing = expected contribution

What You Need

Here's a list of what you should have on hand before starting the FAFSA process. You will need records of income earned in the year prior to when you will start school. You may also need records of your parent's income information if you are a dependent student.

You'll always need your taxes and financial information from the previous year. For example, for the 2008-2009 school year, students needed their financial information from 2007. You will need to refer to:

  • Your Social Security Number (can be found on Social Security card)
  • Your driver's license (if any)
  • Your 2007 W-2 Forms and other records of money earned
  • Your (and your spouse's, if you are married) 2004 Federal Income Tax Return - IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040TeleFile, foreign tax return, or tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia
  • Your parents' 2007 Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student)
  • Your 2007 untaxed income records - Social Security, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, welfare, or veterans benefits 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 residence card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

School information on the FAFSA

One important piece of information that applicants provide on the FAFSA is the school/schools that you are interested in attending. By entering the information on the school section of the FAFSA, the information is electronically forwarded to the schools' financial aid office allowing them to begin making an award. You can find your school's FAFSA codes on our FAFSA school directory pages.

Electronic considerations for filing the FAFSA

There are a number of electronic options available to make filing the FAFSA very easy. These electronic options are also much faster in providing information to the schools you may be considering attending.

  • It's safe
  • It's fast
  • It's free

After submitting the FAFSA

Once you submit your FAFSA to the Department of Education, the information you provide is processed to determine your EFC and check other requirements of aid eligibility. The FAFSA processor forwards an electronic record of your application to the schools you indicated. You will also receive a notification from the Department of Education, the Student Aid Report (SAR), and at this point, review the information on the application and make corrections if needed.

Apply for Scholarships

While waiting for your FAFSA to be processed, start looking for and applying for scholarships. Useful sites include:

Accept Grants

If you are eligible for them, you can be awarded one or more federal grants, including:

  • The Federal Pell Grant
  • The Federal Supplementary Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
  • The Federal Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG)
  • The Federal Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (SMART)

Your Student Aid Report (SAR) will detail what grants you are eligible for, if any.

Apply for Loans

Once you've gotten your SAR, it's time to apply for student loans. Some common student loans you can apply for include:

  • Federal Stafford Loans
  • Federal PLUS Loans for parents of undergraduate students
  • Perkins Loans

You can also apply for non-federal student loans if your FAFSA SAR comes back with no aid available.

After graduating you can consolidate your student loans, combining multiple payments into one.