- College applications are running out, but don’t forget how you plan to pay for school.
- Free Applying for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, can help you find scholarships and loans.
- Make sure you complete it and submit it for the best chance of getting the most money.
Most college applications are closing soon, but don’t forget your free application for federal student aid, which can help you find the money to pay for school.
The free app, also known as FAFSA, gives students easy access to the largest source of financial aid for college or vocational school. Students fill out the form to apply for federal student aid, such as federal scholarships, work-study, and loans. Many states and colleges and some private financial aid providers also use FAFSA information to determine if you are eligible for their help.
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When is FAFSA due?
FAFSA is available on October 1 of each year, but there are many deadlines for submissions.
Many states and colleges set priority deadlines by which you must submit your FAFSA form in order to be considered for the aid programs they administer.
You can check state deadlines or who to contact to find out here.
For individual college deadlines, check the school’s website or contact its financial aid office. School deadlines are usually at the beginning of 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 the FAFSA form is processed or the date the college receives the processed FAFSA data?
The federal deadline is 11:59 PM CT on June 30. Any corrections or updates needed after you turn in your application must be submitted by 11:59 PM CT on September 9. Five states—Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, New Hampshire—require high school students to complete the FAFSA to graduate to ensure they aren’t leaving money on the table.
Tip: Even if the FAFSA deadlines seem far off, submit your application as soon as possible, even if you’re not sure if you attend school, for a better chance of getting more money. Some states and schools have limited funds and those are awarded on a first come, first served basis.
What do I need to complete the application?
Your personal and financial information and, depending on your nationality and other circumstances, some of the following:
- Social Security number
- Parents’ social security numbers, if you are a dependent student
- Your driving license number, if you have one
- Alien Registration Number, if you are not a US citizen
- Federal tax information, tax records, 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, US Virgin Islands, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia or Palau
- Records of your untaxed income, such as received child support, interest income, and non-educational Veterans benefits, for you and your parents, if you are a dependent student
- Cash information; current and savings account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but excluding the house you live in); and business and agricultural assets for you and your parents, if you are a dependent student
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Where can I find the application to fill out and file?
There are three ways to file your FAFSA:
- The best way is to visit the FAFSA website and create an FSA ID (combination of account username and password), if you don’t already have one, or log in to apply online if you do. An FSA ID is recommended because it gives you access to certain information online and allows you to electronically sign the FAFSA form and drafts.
Advice: Near the start of the FAFSA application, you’ll create a “save key,” a temporary password that you’ll use if you launch the FAFSA form and then save it to complete it later. Students and parents can use this feature to access the FAFSA form if they are filling out the application in separate places. (Unlike the FSA ID, which must be kept private, you can tell your parents your save key.)
Also, if you are applying for a summer session, contact the college financial aid office to find out which school year you should select when filling out the FAFSA form.
- You can also complete a FAFSA PDF, but you’ll need to print and mail it for processing.
- Or you can request a print of the FAFSA PDF by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243); then fill out the form and submit it for processing.
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How does the school I’m applying to receive my application for help?
You will list at least one school (and up to 10 online or four on a FAFSA PDF) on the form to receive your information. Use the federal school code search to find colleges you are interested in including on your FAFSA form. The schools you list in the application will automatically receive your FAFSA electronically. If you use the FAFSA PDF, you can add more schools to your form later.
For federal student aid purposes, the order of schools for the college list does not matter. However, some states require you to list schools in a particular order, so check if your state has a requirement.
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What happens after I sign and submit my application?
You can track your application online by logging into your online account with your FSA ID or by contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center.
A school may also have other forms to complete in order to be considered for school aid, so check with the school’s financial aid office.
Shortly after you submit your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which you should review for accuracy and make any corrections or updates by 11:59 PM CT on September 9.
The SAR may also say that you have been selected for verification, which means your school will request additional documentation by the school deadline that supports the information you reported.
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How do I know how much help I get?
The school you listed will calculate your help and send you an electronic or paper help offer, sometimes called an award letter. Offers of help may arrive as early as winter (fall assignment) or immediately before school starts, depending on when you apply and how the school schedules award offers.
When you get offers, understand what is being offered. For example, is it free money like a grant or fellowship or is it a loan that you will have to pay back?
Next, decide what help you need and then respond to the school’s help offer by the school deadline.
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How is the aid disbursed?
Once you accept the aid, your school will explain how and when your aid will be distributed and if you need to complete any other paperwork or meet any other requirements. For example, if you are getting a federal student loan for the first time, you will need to sign a promissory note or contract stating that you will repay the loan and go through admissions counseling.
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What if I need help during any part of this process?
Try going to the Federal Student Aid help page to find the answers.
If you can’t find answers, you can also reach out to a person there via 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 sign up for our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news Monday through Friday mornings.