To apply for financial aid — including federal and state grants, work-study and loans — you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This financial aid form may seem complex, but there are many free resources to help you.
Who can help me complete the FAFSA?
- Department of Education offers FREE help by calling 1-800-433-3243
- Independent Living (IL) Providers
- Social Worker
- Foster Parent/Legal Guardian
- Attend a College Goal Sunday Event
Here are tips for foster youth to help answer some of the questions on the FAFSA form: Tip Sheet for wards of the court, foster youth, single parents and more
FAFSA on the Web
You can complete, submit and track your application online. This is the easiest way to apply for federal aid. The online program even checks your data before it is sent to the processing center, so there’s less chance of making an error. FAFSA on the Web Worksheet – Complete this worksheet before completing the FAFSA – it provides a preview of the questions that you may be asked while completing the FAFSA.
Before You Apply
What Information Do I Need When I Fill Out the FAFSA – Checklist provided by StudentAid.gov
- Complete Your Income Tax Return – You don’t have to file your income tax return before you fill out the FAFSA, but it’s a good idea to do so. A lot of the requested information is the same, and you may be able to use the time-saving IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
- Get a PIN – Get a U.S. Department of Education Personal Identification Number (PIN) by filling out the short application at www.pin.ed.gov. You can get your PIN immediately by email or later by postal mail. You can use FAFSA on the Web without a PIN; you’ll just have to print out and mail in a signature page.
- Collect Documents – Below is the list of the documents you need to get started.
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
- Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- Federal Student Aid Personal Identification Number (PIN) – The PIN is used to sign the FAFSA electronically. If you do not have a PIN you can obtain one by going to: www.pin.ed.gov.
Do I have to Provide My Parents’ Information on the FAFSA?
No, if at any time since you turned age 13, both of your parents were deceased, you were in foster care, or a dependent or ward of the court, OR
- On or after July 1, 2013, the student was determined by a high school or school district homeless liaison to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or was self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, OR
- On or after July 1, 2013, the student was determined by the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or was self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, OR
- At any time on or after July 1, 2013, the student was determined by a director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or was self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, OR
- The student was determined by the college financial aid administrator to be an un-accompanied youth who is homeless or is self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.
Student Aid Report (SAR)
The Student Aid Report (SAR) summarizes the information you report on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The schools you list on your FAFSA will have access to your SAR and will use the information to determine if you are eligible for federal and state student financial aid.
The verification process may be requested by the Department of Education and/or Financial Aid Administrator at the college or university you applied to. They will review the information you provide on the FAFSA to ensure accuracy. Usually only a certain percentage of students are selected for verification. However, keep in mind that some schools choose to do 100% verification so every student file is verified.
Financial Aid Award Notification
Once the Financial Aid Administer at your college or university reviews your SAR, they will put together your financial aid package and send you an award notification. The award notification will include the financial calculation that determines the amount of aid you receive: Cost of Attendance (COA) minus Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = financial need. It will also list the financial aid awards that the college has determined you are eligible to receive. Financial aid awards may include:
Comparing Award Notifications
If you applied to several colleges/universities, once you receive the different financial aid award notifications, you should compare the financial aid packages offered from each school.
Accept or Decline the Financial Aid Award
Once you have decided on a school, you should take action by accepting or declining the offered financial aid. Pay close attention to deadlines for accepting the award package. Deadlines are usually within two weeks after receiving the award notification. If a deadline is missed, you may risk losing a scholarship, grant, or loan assistance. If you find that the college you want to attend offers less aid than your financial need, be sure to look into ways of filling that financial aid gap.