This year, Federal Student Aid (FSA) estimates that filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) takes less than one hour. Read on for the information you’ll need, the step to take before going to the FAFSA site, and what to expect when filling out the application online.
Completing the FAFSA Application for Academic Year 2023-2024
If this is your first time submitting the FAFSA, you’ll be glad to know that it usually takes less time after the first time (yes, FAFSA is submitted annually.) Last year, renewing the FAFSA application took an average 35 minutes, compared to submitting for the first time, which took an average 54 minutes, according to the Department of Education.
Not quite ready to submit your FAFSA, but want an estimate of your student aid package? You can fill out an abridged Federal Student Aid Estimator .
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Docs You’ll Need to Fill Out FAFSA
Before you start the online FAFSA form, it’s useful to have the info you’ll need handy. That includes:
• Your Social Security or alien registration ID
• Driver’s license or state ID
• Federal income tax returns for 2021, W-2s and other financial documents for yourself (and your parents if you’re a dependent)
• Most recent bank statements
• Any untaxed income amounts
12 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA
FAFSA opened Oct. 1, 2021, and closes June 30, 2023, for the 2022-2023 academic year. FAFSA opened Oct. 1, 2022, and closes June 30, 2024, for the 2023-2024 academic year. That said, schools and state and scholarship programs have varying deadlines, so it’s a good idea to check and double-check the FAFSA deadlines for everything you are applying to.
Here are the steps to completing the online FAFSA form.
1. Creating Your FSA ID
The first step is creating a Federal Student Aid ID . This is simply the username and password you’ll use to log into FAFSA. Note that if your parents’ financial info is required to complete the application, a parent will also need to create a FSA ID.
2. Logging in
Now that you have a FSA ID, you’re ready to log into the online FAFSA form . But before you log in, the site will ask if you are a student, parent, or preparer helping a student fill out the FAFSA. Select which one you are.
Once you’re in, you will be asked to accept or decline the disclaimer, which details how the site will use and monitor your data. You should then be prompted to start a FAFSA application for 2023-2024.
You’ll also be asked to create a save key, which is a temporary code in case you leave the site before you submit your application. In other words, if you don’t finish FAFSA in one sitting, you can enter your save key and pick up where you left off.
3. Filling in Your Personal Information
You (the student) will be asked to fill in the following info (you’ll be prompted to hit “Continue” several times):
• Your Social Security number
• Full name
• Date of birth
• Email address
• Phone number
• Mailing address
You’ll then need to answer questions about:
• How long you’ve lived in your state
• Whether you are a citizen
4. Filling in Your Student Information
Next, you’ll need to answer questions about your education and future plans. Specifically, you’ll be asked about:
• Your high school completion status at the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year
• The college degree or certificate you will be seeking to earn
• Your college grade level
• Whether you’d like to be considered for work-study
Additionally, you’ll be asked to provide (you’ll be prompted to hit “Continue” several times):
• Your driver’s license number (if you have a license)
• Your driver’s license state
• Whether you’ve ever been in the foster care system
• The highest level of school each of your parents completed
• Your high school name and city (optional) and state
5. Filling in the College Search Section
To send your FAFSA information to schools you’re applying to, you’ll need to add the federal school code for each school. Doing so allows colleges to receive your FAFSA information and so use it to provide you a financial aid package. The online form will help you find the codes; you just input the school name, city, and state. You can add up to 10 colleges at a time.
Next, for each school, you’ll need to select your housing plan (on campus, with parent, or off campus).
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6. Filling in Info That Helps Determine Your Dependency Status
Your answers in this section will determine whether you are an independent or dependent student— and so determine the financial information you and your parents will need to provide. Specifically, you’ll be asked about:
• Your marital status
• Whether you have children that you support
• Whether you have other dependents who live with you and you support
• Whether you are on active duty or a veteran of the U.S. armed forces, are an emancipated minor, whether someone other than a parent or stepparent has legal guardianship, and whether you have ever been in foster care or a ward of the court or both parents have died since you were 13.
• Whether you were homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless on or after July 1, 2022
7. Learning Your Dependency Status
At this point, the smart technology of the online FAFSA form determines whether you’re a dependent or not. If you are single, have no children or other dependents, and answered “none of the above” and “no” on the previous two screens, you are likely a dependent. As a result, your parents’ financial information will be needed in addition to yours to complete the form and calculate your expected family contribution (which will soon be replaced with the student aid index).
Please note that the rest of these steps assume you’re filing as a dependent. While the process of filing as an independent will be similar, you won’t be asked to provide information about your parents.
8. Filling in Your Parents’ Personal Information
You (the student) can answer the following questions about your parents:
• Their marital status and when they married or remarried
• Date of parent’s marriage
• Each parent’s name, Social Security number, date of birth, and email
• If your parents have lived in your state of residency for at least 5 years
• Number of other dependent children and other dependents your parents have
9. Providing Your Parents’ Financials
You will need info about your parents’ tax return for 2021 or 2022 to answer the following questions about:
• Their tax return status
• The type of tax return they filed (i.e., 1040 or something else)
• Their tax filing status (e.g, married-filed joint return)
At this point, you can either use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that pulls their tax return information into the FAFSA form or enter their info manually. In addition to being more convenient, using DRT means you may not have to later provide IRS documentation. (As mentioned earlier, one of your parents will need to create and provide an FSA ID and password to use DRT.)
If you are manually entering your parents financial info, you will need to answer questions about:
• Their adjusted gross income
• Amount each parent earned
• Amount they paid in federal taxes
• Amounts of other income (such as college grants and tax-exempt interest income)
• Amounts of child support paid, earnings from work under a Cooperative Education Program, and taxable earnings from need-based employment programs
• Amounts of untaxed income (such as child support or payments to tax-deferred retirement savings plans)
• Their assets (including the value of cash and bank accounts, investments, and owned businesses and investment farms)
10. Providing Your Financials
Now it’s time to provide your financial information. Basically, you will be asked for the same info about yourself that you provided in the previous step about your parents’ income and assets.
11. Checking for Errors
Once you’ve reached the end of the application, you’ll see a summary to review. Checking that all the information is accurate may help avoid having to file a FAFSA correction later.
You’ll next need to answer a few more questions that the federal government collects about gender, ethnicity, and race. This info has no impact on whether you will receive financial aid.
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12. Signing and Submitting
FAFSA requires you to accept or reject its agreement of terms. If your parent or parents provided information because you filed as a dependent, one of them will also need to accept these terms in order for you to submit the application. Both you and your parent will e-sign using your FSA ID. Once you’ve signed and submitted your application, your FAFSA is complete.
Downloadable FAFSA Form for 2023-2024
Here’s the FAFSA form for 2023-24 if you want to see it before logging in to fill it out — or if you want to print it, fill it out, and mail it in. There’s also a FAFSA worksheet available for download.
What’s Different About the 2023-24 FAFSA
If you heard there was a FAFSA app and wondering where to find it, unfortunately, the myStudent Aid app is no longer in use. This application cycle, the only online access is via the Federal Student Aid site .
Additionally, the 2023-24 form does not ask about Selective Service registration status or drug convictions.
A Few Extra Tips
Completing FAFSA can be an overwhelming process. It can also be tempting to skip it altogether, especially if you’re from a middle- or high-income family and you believe you aren’t eligible for aid. However, that’s an assumption that could mean leaving aid on the table. Here are three more helpful tips:
2. Schools, states, and scholarships have varying deadlines. As stated earlier, FAFSA opened Oct. 1, 2022, and closes June 30, 2024, for the 2023-2024 academic year. However, the schools and scholarships you’re applying to may require you to fill out your FAFSA before June 30 of next year, so it’s best to check each school’s and program’s FAFSA deadlines to avoid losing out on aid.
3. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool can help you avoid making mistakes. This tool auto-fills your (and your parents’) latest tax information from the IRS database. So instead of having to figure out what the adjusted or non-taxed income was on your parents’ tax return, you can let the tool do it for you.
4. It doesn’t pay to guess. Not sure how to fill out a section or what the answer is? FAFSA offers helpful tips and clarifications throughout each section of the FAFSA form, so be sure to read all the boxes that appear. Inaccurate answers can result in receiving less financial aid than you’re eligible for as well as needing to file corrections and send in supporting documentation.
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Filling out the FAFSA is a great first step to pay for your dream school. This is one of the best ways of getting scholarships and grants you won’t have to pay back or government-backed loans to help you pay for college-related costs. By learning how to properly fill out the FAFSA (and then actually doing so!), you can increase your odds of getting a bigger financial aid package.
However, if your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your college expenses, you may want to consider a private student loan. It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered only after other sources of funding have been considered.
SoFi’s private student loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents. In just a few minutes, you can apply online for student loans and be well on your way to financing your education.
Header photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev
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