How to Answer the 6 Hardest FAFSA Questions

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 3/02/20

Now that you’ve made it through high school and decided to go to college, there are many wondrous adventures ahead of you, from meeting people from around the world to discovering subjects that can completely change how you view the universe. However, there is still one major roadblock on your road to academic adventure: the FAFSA.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that nearly all college students fill out every year. It provides the government, private institutions awarding scholarships, and universities the information needed to determine what financial assistance you qualify for during the upcoming school year.

Here are six of the hardest questions on the FAFSA, with some tips to help you understand and answer them.

Questions 14 and 15: Citizenship and Immigration Status

The Department of Education (DOE) is obligated by law to ensure that federal financial aid is only dispensed to legal residents of the United States. American citizens and U.S. nationals are automatically eligible. Others who are eligible are recognized refugees, victims of human trafficking, and T visa holders.

Additionally, aid may be given if the applicant is a resident of the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia or if he or she has been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Consult with an immigration lawyer if you happen to have any doubts about your legal status. However, here is a quick rule of thumb: being born in the U.S. or to American Citizen parents automatically confers U.S. citizenship.

Simply answer the questions as provided.

Question 22: Selective Service

All men in the United States, regardless of citizen status, and male U.S. citizens abroad are required to join the Selective Service at age 18. A carryover from the days of forced enlistment, this program is designed to ensure that there is a healthy pool of candidates to choose from in the event that a national draft has to be implemented.

Note: the draft has not been enacted since the Vietnam War. The military is currently a volunteer-only organization. Any draft will need to be authorized by Congress, and as such the situation would have to be dire in order to overcome the political issues surrounding such a momentous decision.

Men are required to join the Selective Service to be eligible for many benefits, including financial aid for college. Women are exempt from this program and can skip this question.

Answer honestly, regardless of your status. If you are not enrolled in Selective Service, the DOE will enroll you automatically. However, if you were required to join the Selective Service but failed to do so before age 26, you will be denied access to financial aid regardless of your answer.

Question 31: Work-Study

There is no discernible benefit in choosing to answer “no” to this question. On the contrary, by making yourself available for work-study, you stand to gain opportunities to help make your campus a better place for students and faculty alike.

Work-study positions cover a wide range of potential jobs on campus, from working as a research assistant to helping out freshman students figure out where they need to go. Speak with your financial aid office to discover what positions are available. Here is a fun fact: several of these positions are open regardless if you are given the opportunity to receive work-study aid. By selecting one of these jobs, you will be working in a setting that understands the stresses placed upon students and the need to have time to study and handle extracurricular activities tied to your major.

You will not be required to accept the offered position. Just like with student loans and grants, you have the legal right to decide not to take them.

Question 32: Student Income Tax Return

This question is required regardless if you are considered a dependent on your parents’ tax returns. If you have filed for the year in question, simply look up the appropriate figures and answer questions 33 through 38.

If you are filing online, you will be given the opportunity to import your information from the IRS automatically. This requires that you create an FSA credential, which you are directed to do at the state of the digital filing. After proving your identity, your tax information will be imported directly from the IRS database, and the questions following this will auto-populate.

Now, this only works if you had filed a tax return for the year in question. If this had not been done then the data pull will return an error and you will be required to fill in estimated figures for the time being.

If you choose to input estimated figures, you will be required to verify the information post-filling. Universities cannot compute financial aid awards without having solid figures. Due to the first-come-first-served nature of financial aid, it is imperative that you have your filling completed as quickly as possible.

Please note: Regardless of how you answer the question, there is always the chance you will be audited by your university. Make certain every detail is correct and keep the records handy in case you are chosen for this process.

Question 79: Parents’ Income Tax Return

This question applies to dependent “children” and concerns their parents’ income tax filings. It is handled in almost the exact same way as with question No. 32, though it should be noted that if your answer to Question 59 was “unmarried and both parents living together,” you will be directed to contact the DOE to receive advice on how to proceed.

There is one thing to note here: If your parents are separated, divorced, not married, or widowed, then you will only have to report one parent’s financial information on the FAFSA.

As with your personal tax filings, your parents’ tax returns may be audited at random by your university to ensure accuracy. This is typically random, though if you claim that your parents aren’t going to file taxes, the odds of you being audited increase substantially.

Like with your own tax returns, you will be given the opportunity to have the application fetch the relevant details from the IRS database. The process to pull this data will be exactly the same, you will just need your parent’s information to get it done. Like with the student component, if they had not filed for the year in question, an error will be returned, and you will be required to fill in estimates.

Questions 95 and 96: Student Household Information

This question seems straightforward, though it can trip up students who think too hard about it. Simply add up the totals according to directions, and you are good to go. Bear in mind that this includes fellow college students, so if you have a sibling attending college at the same time, make sure to include him or her.

Question No. 96 will directly ask for the number of college students in the household (excluding those in military academies and those not attending half-time or more).

Learn More Today

Now that you have learned how to handle the toughest FAFSA questions, why not learn more about the college financial aid field? Our team of dedicated experts at spends every day discovering the newest scholarships, the brightest grants, and the most opportune loans to provide you with information you need to make an informed and proper decision.

Visit us regularly to discover new ways to properly prepare yourself for the upcoming academic year by making sound financial decisions at the outset. After all, those who choose not to plan are often caught by surprise when an unexpected event occurs.