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It’s Time for the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your starting point for paying for college. $120 billion is awarded each year through the FAFSA to students through grants, work-study programs, and low-interest loans. Colleges and states also use the financial information reported in the FAFSA to figure out which students will get financial aid and how much they will receive.

Applications for the FAFSA start each year on October 1 for the following school year. Since college and state deadlines vary, it’s recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible. This is particularly true considering some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

The FAFSA must be submitted for every year that you are seeking financial aid. Students can fill out the FAFSA at or by mail. Starting last year, the government’s myStudentAid mobile app is also a great option.

What do I need to fill out the FAFSA?

Having all your documents on hand before you get started filling out the FAFSA will make it easier and faster to fill out. Both the student and parent will need to get a FSA ID to get started. The FSA ID and password combination functions as both your FAFSA user credentials and digital signature. Remember to save your FSA ID and password because the it will be used again in future applications.

Generally, the documents needed to complete the FAFSA (parent, student, or spouses if applicable) include:

  • Social Security cards
  • Most recent tax return, along with W2s, 1099s, etc. (unless you are using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool)
  • Bank account and investment statements
  • Records of untaxed income

What happens after you submit your FAFSA?

You should get confirmation, called a Student Aid Report (SAR for short), within three to five days after you submit your FAFSA application. If you submitted it through mail, it will take a week to 10 days. The Student Aid Report (SAR) summarizes all of the information you reported on the FAFSA but also includes additional important information regarding your financial aid eligibility.

For instance, your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC will be included on your SAR report. This number is what colleges use to determine your eligibility for financial aid from federal, state, and private (like scholarships) financial aid sources. At the same time you receive your SAR, the schools you selected in the FAFSA will also receive your application responses and begin compiling your financial aid in a financial aid award letter. These are sent to families in the spring and into summer.

Once you’ve determined which school to attend, follow the instructions in your award letter, being sure  to meet all deadlines for the school’s scholarship and financial aid process.

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