I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA form is too hard.” “It takes too long to complete.” “I’ll never qualify anyway, so why does it matter?” It does matter. For one, contrary to popular belief, there is no income “cut-off” when it comes to federal student aid. Also, the FAFSA form is not just the application for federal grants such as the Federal Pell Grant, it’s also the application for Federal Work-Study funds, federal student loans, and even scholarships and grants offered by your state, school, or private organization. If you don’t complete the FAFSA form, you could lose out on thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. It takes little time to complete, and there are “Help and Hints” provided throughout the application.
The official FAFSA website is studentaid.gov/sa/fafsa. That’s “.gov”! You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA form. If you’re asked to provide credit card information, you’re not on the official government website.
If you want to get the most financial aid possible, fill out the FAFSA form ASAP. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, and some states and colleges run out of money early. Even if it seems like your school’s deadline is far off in the future, get your FAFSA form done ASAP. The 2018–19 FAFSA form requires 2016 tax information, which you should already have—so there’s no excuse to wait!
Which brings me to…
As I said, you should fill out the FAFSA form as soon as possible, but you should DEFINITELY fill it out before your earliest FAFSA deadline. Each state and school sets its own deadline, and some deadlines are very early. To be sure you are being considered for the maximum amount of financial aid, fill out your FAFSA form—and any other financial aid applications required by your state or school—before the earliest deadline.
It’s important to get an FSA ID before filling out the FAFSA form. Why? Well, because when you register for an FSA ID, you may need to wait up to three days before you can use it to sign your FAFSA form electronically. An FSA ID is a username and password that you use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education websites, including fafsa.gov. You AND your parent (if you’re considered a dependent student) will each need your own, separate FSA IDs if you both want to sign your FAFSA form online. DO NOT share your FSA IDs with each other! Doing so could cause problems or delays with your financial aid.
Don’t wait! Create an FSA ID now: StudentAid.gov/fsaid.
When you go to fafsa.gov, you will be given two options to log in:
1) Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID
2) Enter the student’s information
If you’re a student, you should choose the first option. Why? When you do, some of your personal information (name, Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) will be automatically loaded into your application. This will prevent you from running into a common error that occurs when your verified FSA ID information doesn’t match the information on your FAFSA form. Also, you won’t have to enter your FSA ID again to transfer your information from the IRS or to sign your FAFSA form electronically.
IMPORTANT: We recommend that you, the student, start the FAFSA so you can choose the option “Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID.” However, if you are a parent who is starting a FAFSA on your child’s behalf, you should use the option “Enter the student’s information” because you should not know your child’s FSA ID..
Note: The IRS DRT returned with the 2018–19 FAFSA form on Oct. 1, 2017, with additional security and privacy protections added.
For many applicants, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA form is entering the financial information. But thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer their necessary 2016 tax information into the 2018–19 FAFSA form using the IRS DRT. It’s the fastest, most accurate way to enter your tax return information into the FAFSA form, so if you’re given the option to “LINK TO IRS” button, take advantage of it!
Beginning with the 2018–19 FAFSA form, the information transferred from the IRS to your FAFSA form will no longer be displayed online. When your information is successfully transferred, you won’t see your tax information. Instead, the data fields will display the message “Transferred from the IRS.
When it comes to completing the FAFSA form, you’ll want to read each definition and each question carefully; sometimes the FAFSA form is looking for very specific information that may not be obvious.
Here are some items that have very specific (but not necessarily intuitive) definitions according to the FAFSA:
* If you’re a dependent student, the value of any college savings accounts should be reported as a parent asset, not a student asset.
Here are some examples of common errors we see when people complete the FAFSA form:
This is a mistake unless you are applying to only one college or already know where you’re going to school. Colleges can’t see the other schools you’ve added, so you should add ALL colleges you are considering to your FAFSA form, even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll apply or be accepted. You can add up to 10 schools at a time.
It doesn’t hurt your application to add more schools. In fact, you don’t even have to remove schools you later decide not to apply to. If you don’t end up applying or getting accepted to a school, the school can just disregard your FAFSA form. But you can remove schools at any time to make room for new schools.
Note: If you’re a resident of certain states, the order in which you list the schools on your FAFSA form might matter. Find out whether your state has a requirement for the order in which you list schools on your FAFSA form.
So many students answer every single question that is asked but fail to actually sign the FAFSA form with their FSA ID and submit it. This happens for many reasons—maybe you forgot your FSA ID, or your parent isn’t with you to sign with the parent FSA ID—so your application is left incomplete. Don’t let this happen to you.
If you’re not able to sign with your FSA ID, there’s an option to mail a signature page. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA form has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA form online.
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