How to Complete the FAFSA Step by Step

By Melissa Brock · January 04, 2024 · 10 minute read

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How to Complete the FAFSA Step by Step

Editor’s Note: The new, simplified FAFSA form for the 2024-2025 academic year is available, although applicants are reporting a number of glitches. Try not to worry, take your time, and aim to submit your application as soon as possible.

As a student, you must submit a new FAFSA each school year. It’s the only way to learn the types of federal aid you qualify for, including student loans, grants, and work-study programs. Plus, other student aid programs piggyback off the FAFSA, so it’s worth submitting even if you’re not expecting federal aid.

Keep reading to find detailed instructions on how to complete the new, simplified 2024-2025 FAFSA. We’ll walk you through the required fields and highlight changes from last year’s form.

Documents You’ll Need

Before you sit down to fill out the online FAFSA application , it’s best to have the following documents or information handy, especially if you want to fill out the FAFSA as quickly as possible. Documents needed include:

•   Completed tax returns

•   Parents’ SSNs if you’re a dependent student

•   Child support records

•   Cash, savings, and checking account balances

•   Investment, business, or farm net worth

How to Fill Out the FAFSA in 6 Steps

How to Fill Out the FAFSA

Ready to file the FAFSA? First, check your watch.

Ensure you have up to an hour to fill it out. Most people find that it takes less than one hour to complete, including gathering the personal and financial information you need.

Here’s how to fill out the FAFSA step by step.

Step 1: Create an Account

The preferred way to complete the FAFSA is online, as you’re likely already aware.

But where do you fill out the FAFSA?

You can do so for free at — remember that you should never pay any site to file the FAFSA.

Create a account before you start the FAFSA. Ensure your name and Social Security number (SSN) look exactly as they do on your Social Security card.

The individuals who must include information on the form — a spouse, a biological or adoptive parent, or your parent’s spouse — must all have an FSA ID (account username and password). However, contributors without an SSN can create an account to fill out their portion of the 2024-2025 form.

A contributor is anyone required to provide information and approval to have their federal tax information transferred directly into the FAFSA form. This person, while not required to pay for a student’s college education, may include a student’s spouse, a biological or adoptive parent, or a stepparent.

Step 2: Provide Personal Information

After logging in, select either “student” or “parent,” depending on whether you are the student or parent filling out the form. We’ll assume that you’re filling it out as a dependent student for the next few steps.

What is a dependent student vs. independent student? Check out the full list of dependent vs. independent qualifications . Independent students will also answer the same basic set of questions and add spouse information if they are married.

You’ll start by filling out basic personal information, such as:

•   Name

•   Birthdate

•   SSN

•   Email address

•   Mobile phone number

•   Mailing address

Next, as a dependent student, you’ll indicate personal circumstances, such as marital status, college or career school plans, and any unusual personal circumstances.

You’ll answer questions about your parents and “invite” your parents to fill out the FAFSA information. You’ll also answer questions about:

•   Gender identity (though you can select “prefer not to answer”)

•   Race and ethnicity (you can also select “prefer not to answer” here)

•   Citizenship status

•   Parent education status

•   Whether a parent was killed in the line of duty

•   Student’s high school completion status

•   High school information

Step 3: Add Dependent Student Financials

Next, you’ll fill out information about your tax returns and assets (including any cash, savings, and checking accounts you have, or businesses, investments, farms, and/or real estate).

Step 4: Select Colleges

In this section, select colleges you’re considering. You can choose up to 20 colleges or universities where you want your FAFSA recognized. You can search based on city, state, or college name.

Step 5: Review Page and Add Signature

The review page shows the responses you’ve added to the FAFSA. You can review all responses by clicking “Expand All” or show each section individually. Select the question’s hyperlink to edit. Once you invite a parent to the form, you can see the status of the parent invitation.

Finally, you acknowledge the terms and conditions of the FAFSA form and sign, which means you’ve submitted your section of the FAFSA form. It’s not considered complete, however, until a parent signs their portion.

Recommended: Who Qualifies for FAFSA? FAFSA Requirements

Step 6: Parents Add Information

Once a dependent student invites a parent and they log in, the parent will receive information about onboarding. They will add their:

•   Name

•   Birthdate

•   SSN

•   Email address

•   Mobile phone number

•   Mailing address

The parent must provide consent to transfer federal tax information directly from the IRS into the Parent Financials section.

The FAFSA form will also ask the parent about:

•   Demographic information

•   Marital status

•   State of legal residence

•   Finances

•   Federal benefits

•   Tax filing status

•   Family size

•   Number of kids in college in the household

•   Tax return information

•   Assets

Next, the FAFSA will prompt questions about that parent’s spouse or partner, walk through a review page similar to the student review page, and ask for a signature where the parent acknowledges the terms and conditions of the FAFSA form. Finally, the parent signs that section.

Can a parent fill out the entire form on a student’s behalf, without student consent or signature?

Yes. A parent can fill out the entire FAFSA on behalf of the student indicating from the very beginning that they are filling it out as a parent.

If You Need Additional Help Filling Out the FAFSA

If you need help filling out the FAFSA form, you can click on the white question mark icon next to each FAFSA question to reveal a tip on how to answer that question. You can also visit the FAFSA Help Center to learn more about the recently updated form, look at our FAFSA guide, or watch the FAFSA tutorial video .

You can also chat with Aidan, the virtual assistant, or access the Federal Student Aid Information Center .

Finally, you can get help through the financial aid office at the college or career/trade school you plan to attend. They will often walk through the form with you.

Recommended: Avoid These Common FAFSA Mistakes

What Happens After You Submit the FAFSA?

After you hit the “submit” button, you should receive an email version of the submitted confirmation page and a notification via email that your FAFSA form was processed and sent to the schools you requested.

Types of Government Student Aid

Finally, the government calculates your Student Aid Index (SAI), which lets schools determine the amount of aid you can receive. It also helps schools determine the financial aid you can receive from that particular institution. The financial aid office at each school will send you a financial aid award letter, which may include types of government aid such as:

•   Direct Subsidized Loans

•   Direct Unsubsidized Loans

•   Work-study

•   Pell Grants

•   TEACH Grants

•   Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)

Recommended: How Financial Aid Works

Who Should Complete the FAFSA?

Anyone who could benefit from college financial aid has nothing to lose by filling out the FAFSA. Many students leave money on the table every year by failing to complete it, and low-income families are often less likely to complete the form than wealthier ones.

Even if you’re not eligible for federal aid, it’s worth your while to complete the FAFSA because most schools and states use FAFSA information to award non-federal aid. Non-federal aid includes private student loans, scholarships, state aid, employee-sponsored aid, and more.

To qualify for federal grants, work-study, and different types of student loans, you must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen. You’ll need a valid SSN, with few exceptions, and a high school diploma, GED, or another recognized equivalent. You’ll also need to enroll in an eligible educational program and maintain satisfactory academic progress.

You may become ineligible for federal aid if you owe money on a previous federal student grant or are in default on a previous federal student loan.

Some types of federal aid are available only to people who demonstrate financial need. This includes the Federal Pell Grant and Direct Subsidized Loans. For the latter, the government pays the accrued interest while the borrower is in college or during most of their deferment periods.

💡 Quick Tip: Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee SoFi private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

What If I Don’t Qualify for Any or Enough Aid?

The amount of FAFSA money you receive depends on a variety of factors, including the institution you’re applying to, your assets, your parents’ assets, and more.

Merit aid, based on academic excellence, talent, and/or certain achievements, is also available. Some colleges won’t consider you for any of their merit scholarships until you’ve submitted the FAFSA, according to the Department of Education. Businesses, nonprofits, cultural organizations, and local groups also offer merit scholarships.

You can also look into state grants and scholarships. Every state has its own money and process for distributing aid. Some only require a completed FAFSA; others, a separate application.

Then, there are private student loans, which are issued by banks, credit unions, and online lenders (as opposed to the government). You can check to see what various lenders offer and what types of student loans you’d qualify for.

Although private student loans don’t come with the benefits and protections that federal student loans have — like income-driven repayment plans and federal forbearance — they may help bridge funding gaps.

Recommended: Cash Course: A Student’s Guide to Money

The Takeaway

The bottom line: Learning how to complete the FAFSA application doesn’t have to take hours of your time. In fact, it typically takes less than an hour to complete from start to finish. Use our guide to walk you through how to fill out the FAFSA step by step in order to see how much federal aid you’ll qualify for and what types of aid you’re eligible to receive.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


What’s the due date for the new FAFSA?

The FAFSA form must be submitted by 11:59pm central time (CT) on June 30, 2025. You can submit corrections or updates by 11:59pm CT on Sept. 14, 2025.

Can I fill out FAFSA myself?

Yes, students can and should complete the FAFSA on their own. The new FAFSA application instructions are much easier to understand, making it easier than ever for students to fill out. You can then invite your parents to enter information like their Social Security numbers and income figures.

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA?

It takes less than an hour to fill out the FAFSA, including absorbing the FAFSA application instructions. However, it may take you longer to complete if you don’t gather important information ahead of time, such as your family’s Social Security cards.

What disqualifies you from getting FAFSA?

To file the FAFSA, you must meet certain FAFSA requirements. For example, you must demonstrate financial need for need-based federal student aid programs, be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, have a valid SSN except in certain situations, be enrolled or accepted at an eligible institution as a regular student, maintain satisfactory academic progress, provide consent for federal tax information to go to the FAFSA, sign the certification statement on the FAFSA, and show you qualify to obtain higher education.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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