One of the most important things you can do to get the college funding you need is to accurately and completely fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as the FAFSA®. By filling out just this one form (you’ll need to complete this form each school year that you want to receive federal funding), you can become eligible for federal aid, including student loans and grants.
Ready to work on completing the form? You’ll first need to create a username and password combo known as the FSA ID . If you are an independent student (24 years of age or older, or someone who has undergone the legal process to become independent), you are the only one who needs to obtain an FSA ID. Otherwise, a parent or guardian will also need to obtain his or her own FSA ID.
This ID will be used to confirm your identity and to electronically sign federal student loan documents. Make sure that you keep track of your FSA ID; and, if you and your parents each need to get these IDs, don’t get them mixed up.
Got your FSA ID? Now you can get started!
How to Fill Out FAFSA: Getting Started
After entering your FSA ID, you can now fill out the FAFSA form . It’s a good idea to be as proactive as possible when completing this application because some schools and states run out of financial aid dollars early.
Instructions given throughout the rest of this post are for students because, any time the actual application says “you” or “your,” it’s referring to the student. To help parents with applications for dependent students, the U.S. Department of Education has also provided a FAFSA guide for parents .
And, here are specific pieces of information about how to fill out the FAFSA:
Entering Student Demographic Information
What’s most important here is that you accurately fill in the information, carefully proofreading for typos. You’ll be asked for basic information, such as your name (entered exactly as it appears on your Social Security card) and your address, date of birth, and so forth.
Here, you can list every school that you’d like to consider attending, even if you haven’t applied there yet. Colleges can’t access this list and, therefore, can’t see your other choices. And, if you don’t apply to a certain college, they can just disregard your FAFSA .
Determining Dependency Status
You’ll then need to answer a set of questions to determine if parental or guardian’s information and participation is required for you to complete the FAFSA. If the result is that you’re considered a dependent student, then the answer is yes, you need parental participation.
This use of “dependent” can be confusing because it isn’t defined the same way for FAFSA as it is with the IRS. You can be financially independent and not be claimed on your parents’ tax returns, and still be considered dependent for FAFSA purposes. If you believe you should be considered independent, there are special conditions under which that can happen.
Filling Out Parental Demographics
If you’re a dependent student, this is where your parent(s) will need to share their demographic information.
Providing Financial Information
You and your parents can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to import tax information with a couple of clicks if you’ve already provided this year’s required federal tax information to the IRS. Or, there are manual entry options.
Electronically Signing and Submitting Your FAFSA
You and your parent(s) can sign the FAFSA using your FSA IDs. If your parent has forgotten his or her FSA ID, you can go here to retrieve it. If you have two parents, the parent who is signing must identify as Parent 1 or Parent 2 (a designation made when filling out parental demographics; you can always go back to that section to see which choice is appropriate).
As yet, another (slower) option, you can print out the signature page by selecting:
• Other options to sign and submit
• Print a signature page
Then, you can sign and mail in that page. And voila, that’s how you fill out your FAFSA!
To receive federal student loans , you must be a citizen of the United States or an eligible noncitizen. You’ll need a valid Social Security number, unless you’re from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.
You’ll need a high diploma or a general education development (GED) certificate; homeschooling students can also qualify. You’ll also need to enroll in an eligible educational program and maintain satisfactory academic progress. Men will also need to register for the Selective Service System if you haven’t already (with the three regions exempt from having a social security number also exempt from this requirement).
Here are a few of the items that can make you ineligible; if you:
• Owe a refund on a previous federal student grant
• Are in default with a previous federal student loan
• Have a conviction for possession or sale of illegal drugs if the offense took place when you were receiving federal student aid. If this is the case, there is a student aid eligibility worksheet to determine if you are eligible for aid, either partially or fully.
Related: Do You Have to Pay FAFSA Back?
Some types of federal loans are available only to people who demonstrate certain financial need. These include the Federal Pell Grant and Direct Subsidized Loans, on which the government covers the accrued interest while the borrower is in college or during most of their deferment periods.
What if I Don’t Qualify for Federal Student Loans?
Private student loans, those not funded by the government, are also available. You can check with various lenders (banks, credit unions, and so forth), as well as with the college you’ll be attending, to find out what options exist for you. You can also check with student loan or grant agencies from your particular state.
As you investigate private loan possibilities, note that each may come with its own conditions. For example, maybe your lender won’t allow you to defer payments if you get into financially challenging situations after graduation.
Although private student loans don’t offer some of the same protections as federal ones—like income-driven repayment plans, deferment, or forbearance—they may be an option if you require additional funding beyond your federal student loans. If you are interested in learning more about private student loans, check out SoFi.
SoFi helps students pay for college with our no-fee private student loans. We also offer flexible repayment options to help you find the loan that fits your budget.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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