How to Complete the FAFSA
Maximize Financial Aid Resources by Understanding the FAFSA
Charting your course through higher education can be complicated and overwhelming. Typically, the financial aid process is no exception; the good news is it doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. There are resources available to help you understand how to finance your education.
One common and important resource to understand is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. We’ll provide an overview and answer common questions to help simplify the application process.
What’s the FASFA?
The first step to becoming eligible to receive federal financial assistance for college, career school, or graduate school is filling out your FAFSA. Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and can give you access to one of the largest sources of financial aid. According to Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, over $150 billion in grants, loans and work-study funds are granted every year.
When do I fill out the FAFSA?
Filling out and submitting your application is not a one-time commitment; each year you wish to receive financial assistance you need to re-file an application. And missing a deadline can impact your ability to receive financial aid for an entire award year. Deadlines may vary each year so it is important to know the differing filing deadlines.
Also, it’s essential to know specific state and institutional deadlines that may vary from the federal timeline. We recommend checking FAFSA deadlines to avoid missing an important date.
What’s my first step?
Access the FAFSA application at www.fafsa.ed.gov. It’s helpful to know this application is long and requires detailed information. Before you begin your application the Federal Student Aid office recommends gathering a few key documents:
- Your FSA ID (if you do not have an FSA ID, you may register for one at https://fsaid.ed.gov)
- Your Social Security number,
- Your parents’ Social Security number (if you are a dependent student),
- Your driver’s license number,
- Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen),
- Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information for all relevant parties
- Records of untaxed income (e.g., child support received, interest income, veterans noneducation benefits, etc.)
- Cash, savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate; business and farm assets.
Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and click “Start A New FAFSA.” You’ll be prompted to fill out basic information. Notice the “Help and Hints” wizard to the right of your screen and a “NEED HELP?” button toward the bottom left. These resources are accessible throughout the application and can be a useful tool if you get stuck.
After you click “NEXT” you have an option for a “FAFSA Renewal”. If you have submitted a FAFSA in the past this can expedite future filings since some of your personal information (nonfinancial) can be auto-filled. Review and update any information that may have changed since your last application.
Within these first steps you will create a password. Remember, this isn’t the same as your Federal Student Aid ID. This password is required if you need to start and stop your application before finishing it or choose to complete your FAFSA in multiple sessions.
How does my college receive my FAFSA?
You will need to list at least one institution to complete your application. It’ll ask you to enter the Federal School Code for the college or university you’re hoping to attend. There’s a search option on this page to help you identify your specific school codes. There is no need to list your school codes in a specific order.
If you are planning to apply to CTU, our codes are: E01038 (online students), 010148 (for students applying to our Colorado Springs campus) and E00840 (for students applying to our Aurora campus).
What is my dependency status?
Dependency status is an important determination; it’ll inform what and whose financial information needs to be included in your application. If you’re a dependent student, you need to report yours and your parents’ information on the application. If you’re an independent student, you report your own information. If you’re an independent student who’s also married, you need to include your spouse’s information.
How dependency is determined can change from one year’s application to the next, so pay careful attention to each question in the Dependency Determination section. And remember to use the help resources to the right and bottom of your screen.
What financial information will I need to report?
At the beginning of this post, we suggested gathering a list of documents before starting your application. You’ll likely use a majority of those documents for the Student Financial Information section. Throughout this section you’re asked about tax forms and balances of savings and checking accounts. If you aren’t’ sure where to locate the information the FAFSA requests, remember to use the “Help and Hints” tool. You may also be able to transfer your tax information directly from the IRS using the FAFSA Data Retrieval Tool. Read the information presented on the page to see if you qualify. Also, before you click “Next” on each page, be sure to review your information carefully.
How do I submit my completed FAFSA?
You need to sign and submit your completed FAFSA before it can be processed. Here are a few final tips to consider as you finish your application:
- Use your FSA ID when completing your FAFSA to ensure timely processing,
- Understand the terms and conditions you’re signing,
- Print out your confirmation page and save the email confirmation; there are slight differences in these pages, so you’ll want both for future references,
- Take advantage of the option to transfer parent information if you have a sibling who is also filling out a FAFSA.
After your FAFSA is submitted successfully the Department of Education will process your application and send your information to the colleges you selected. Don’t forget some schools require additional documentation after receiving your FAFSA. If you need assistance at any point throughout this process, contact a CTU finance representative.
Image Credit: Flickr/photosteve101