FAFSA: The Form Every College Student Should Fill Out

Written by: Matt Kuncaitis
Updated: 9/02/21

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) isn’t just the fast track to student loans or a form just for lower income students to get free money for college. Filling it out each year lets colleges know you want financial aid ranging from need-based grants to merit-based scholarships.

Here’s what you need to know about the FAFSA:

Everyone providing financial information needs their own FSA ID

The FSA ID is the username and password you’ll use to fill out the FAFSA. Dependent students will need their parent(s) they live with over 6 months of the year to also provide information, which means they will also need FSA IDs.

Independent students don’t need parents to provide information or get an FSA ID. To be considered independent as an undergraduate student, you’ll generally have to meet one of the following conditions: turn 24 years old during the award year, be an orphan, have been a ward of the court or in foster care when 13 or older, are a U.S. military veteran or served or are currently serving in the military, are married, have legal dependents, are emancipated as a minor or in legal guardianship, or are homeless. 

Students can also get approval for being an independent student for unusual circumstances. Getting this distinction is pretty rare and must be for a much larger reason than the parent doesn’t want to contribute financially to your education. 

What information you need to provide on the FAFSA:

The information you need is pretty basic. Both parent and student tax return information can now be auto populated from the IRS website on the form directly from the FAFSA website or app. You’ll also need your social security numbers, alien registration numbers if not a legal citizen, financial statements for both bank and investment accounts, and records of untaxed income. An example of untaxed income are veterans’ benefits.  

Filling it out the FAFSA early matters.

Some schools and states have limited grant funding. Thus, they can run out of funds quickly. Fill out the FAFSA as close to the October 1st opening date as possible. But what if you don’t know which school you want to apply to yet? Don’t worry about it. You can fill in up to 10 schools for free. If you feel the information you provided doesn’t accurately represent your current financial situation, you can explain your financial situation on a special circumstances form available from the college you select’s financial aid office.

You may need to fill out additional forms.

Filling out the FAFSA is sometimes just a first step. You may still need to fill out scholarship and grant forms from your school or state. The CSS Profile form might also be required by some private colleges. To make sure you get the maximum financial aid you can, talk to the financial aid office about scholarships and grants you are qualified to receive. Also, don’t click out of FAFSA screens too early. The last page may have information on extra state forms for grant aid.

List state colleges first.

Some state colleges will give you more financial aid if you list their college first. You can still name up to 10 colleges you’d like to receive your information. Because how quickly you apply matters, make sure you checked to see which colleges on your list, mainly private schools, also require a CSS Profile form available on the College Board website. 

5 Key Takeaways

  • Everyone should fill out the FAFSA. It’s the first step in receiving financial aid from schools.
  • Talk to school financial aid offices about additional forms you should fill out for scholarships and grants.
  • List state colleges first, just in case you get extra financial aid for doing so.
  • Fill out the FAFSA as close to October 1st as possible. Some financial aid is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Get a FSA ID for everyone whose income is necessary on the FAFSA form.

Guest post by Reyna Gobel.