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The majority of students need help paying for their college education. In fact, according to the College Board, in 2015 about two-thirds of full-time college students paid for college with the help of financial aid in the form of grants, loans, and scholarships.   

 

Each of these students receiving aid at some point most likely applied for and received this aid based on their financial needs. But how are these needs determined and what factors are considered? The answer can be found, at least in part, in the FAFSA.

 

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a form filled out annually by families who wish to apply for federal and state grants, loans, and work-study funds for college students. These funds are administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides more than $150 billion in student aid each year.

 

To learn more about the FAFSA, read The Ultimate Guide to Filling Out the FAFSA.

 

The FAFSA is available on October 1st of each year, and students, together with their families, are encouraged to fill it out as soon as possible in order to meet FAFSA deadlines.

 

On average, the FAFSA only takes about 25 minutes to fill out, and submitting the completed application is free. For this reason, we recommend that all students who need financial aid, or think they might need it, to apply.

 

To get started on your FAFSA for the first time, you’ll need to head over to the FAFSA website and click on the “Start a New FAFSA” link. But before you do so, it’s important to make sure that you have all of the necessary information that you’ll need to fill it out.

 

Read on to learn exactly what documents and information you’ll need to have handy to complete your FAFSA.

 

What types of information does the FAFSA ask for?

The FAFSA gathers three primary forms of information: personal information like your name and other identifiers, financial information such as income and investments, and college information such as which colleges you would like your application details forwarded to.

 

Your identifying information and financial information are used to create your FAFSA profile and determine your eligibility for aid. Your preferred college information is used to determine where the details about your finances and aid qualification should be sent.

 

What types of identifying information will I need for the FAFSA?

The exact types of identifying information you are required to enter on your FAFSA will vary depending on your circumstances (for instance, whether you’re a U.S. citizen).

 

In general, though, you can expect to be asked at least some of the following questions:

 

  • Your full name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your address
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your parents’ Social Security numbers, if you’re a dependent student
  • Your driver’s license number if you have one
  • Your Alien Registration number, if you are not a U.S. citizen

 

Be careful when completing your FAFSA that you ensure all of your information is consistent and correctly entered. For example, be certain that you enter your full name exactly as it appears on your Social Security card and be sure to enter your Social Security number correctly.

 

What types of financial information will I need for the FAFSA?

Most of the financial information required on the FAFSA can be found on your tax returns, or your parents’ tax returns if you are a dependent student. You may even be able to have your tax information imported electronically from the IRS into your FAFSA. Follow the directions on the FAFSA to explore this possibility.

 

When you submit your financial information for the FAFSA, be sure to keep your original documents. Never send original records with your FAFSA when sending a paper application. Always send copies instead.

 

Like the identifying information required, the financial information required also varies a bit depending on your exact situation.

 

The most common requirements include:

 

  • Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information for you (and your spouse, if you are married), and for your parents if you are a dependent student.
  • IRS 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ forms
  • Foreign tax returns
  • Tax returns for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans non-education benefits for you, and for your parents if you’re a dependent student
  • Information on cash savings and checking account balances, and investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate but not including the home in which you live
  • Business and farm assets for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student

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What types of college and career school information will I need for the FAFSA?

When you fill out the FAFSA, you will be required to list at least one college to receive your information. The school(s) that you list will use your FAFSA information to determine the types and amounts of aid for which you are eligible.

 

On the federal level, it does not matter which order you list your schools in. To be considered for state aid, however, some states will require you to list schools in a particular order. For instance, you might need to list a state school first. Be sure to check if your state has regulations regarding in which order you must list schools on your FAFSA.

 

You should also know that schools you list on your FAFSA will automatically receive your FAFSA electronically but will not be able to see which other schools you listed on your FAFSA. 

 

You may list up to four schools on a paper FAFSA and up to ten schools on the online FAFSA. More schools can be added to your FAFSA later.

 

To enter a school, you will need to know its Federal School Code. You can find this by using the FAFSA Federal School Code Search. This search tool will also give you an idea of the amount that the average student actually pays per year after receiving financial aid in the form of grants or scholarships.

 

Will I need any academic information on my FAFSA?

No, the FAFSA does not require you to enter any academic information or test scores. Because its focus is only need-based aid, your academic record is not relevant. When you are asked for academic information with regards to college funding, it is usually for merit-based scholarships or aid. 

 

Where can I get help filling out my FAFSA?

There are many places to get some assistance if you need a hand filling out your FAFSA. First, read the “Help and Hints” section located on the right side of any FAFSA entry page. The hints in this section change depending on what question you’re on, so check it frequently if you are unsure about anything.

 

If you can’t find what you need in the “Help and Hints” section, click the “Need Help?” link at the bottom of any FAFSA entry page. This will connect you with some frequently asked questions and also give you the option to chat (in English or Spanish) with live technical support staff.

 

This live chat assistance is also available by clicking the “Help” icon with the big question mark at the top of any FAFSA entry page, and then selecting “Contact Us,” “Federal Student Aid Information Center,” and then “Chat With Us.” You should note, though, that the “Chat With Us” option isn’t visible outside of business hours, which are listed on the Federal Student Aid Information Center contact page.

 

If you’ve exhausted all tips on the FAFSA page, you still have a few more options to get help filling it out. You can try contacting the financial aid office at the college or career school you plan to attend with any specific questions.

 

While the idea of filling out your FAFSA might seem intimidating at first, it doesn’t have to be. Armed with the right documents and information from the beginning, you may even be able to fill it out in less time than it would take to watch an episode of your favorite TV show.

 

To learn more about funding your college education, be sure to check out these popular CollegeVine posts:

 

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist