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6 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA

If your child is going to college next fall, you need to fill this out.

6 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA
(Editor's Note: Got a student headed to college? You might be filling out the FAFSA. Here's the scoop, from the U.S. Department of Education.)

By Nicole Callahan

Don’t go at filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) alone. We’re here to help. You’ve already done the hard part and gathered all of the necessary information, so now it’s time to complete the  FAFSA. Let us walk you through it step by step:

  1. Go to  www.fafsa.gov. One thing you don’t need in order to fill out the FAFSA? Money! Remember, the FAFSA is FREE when you use the official .gov site: www.fafsa.gov.
  2. Choose which FAFSA you’d like to complete. The new FAFSA that becomes available on January 1, 2014, is the 2014–15 FAFSA. You should complete the 2014-15 FAFSA if you will be attending college between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015. Remember, the FAFSA is not a one-time thing. You must complete or renew your FAFSA each school year.
    Note: The 2013–2014 FAFSA is also available if you will be attending college between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014, and you haven’t applied for financial aid yet.
  3. Enter your personal information.* This is information like your name, date of birth, etc. If you have completed the FAFSA in the past, a lot of your personal info will be pre-populated to save you time. Make sure you enter your personal information exactly as it appears on official government documents. (That’s right, no nicknames.)
  4. Enter your financial information.* All of it. You should use income records for the tax year prior to the academic year for which you are applying. For example, if you are filling out the 2014–15 FAFSA, you will need to use 2013 tax information. If you or your parent(s) haven’t filed your 2013 taxes yet, you can always  estimate the amountsusing your 2012 tax return; just make sure to update your FAFSA once you file your 2013 taxes. If you have filed your taxes already, you may be able to automatically import your tax information into the FAFSA using the  IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It makes completing the FAFSA super easy!
  5. Choose up to 10 schools in which you wish to apply, and we will send the necessary information over to them so they can calculate the amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive. Make sure you include any school you plan to attend so your financial aid awards are not delayed.
  6. Sign the document with your PIN.* The PIN serves as your electronic signature, or e-signature. You’ll use it to electronically sign and submit your FAFSA. If you don’t have a PIN, you’ll need to  get one. If you’ve completed the FAFSA in the past, you probably already have a PIN. You can use the same PIN you used in the past to renew your FAFSA each school year, so keep it in a safe place. If you have forgotten your PIN, you can  retrieve it. If you’re considered a dependent student, at least one of your parents or your legal guardian will need a PIN as well. If you or one of your siblings have completed the FAFSA within the last 18 months, your parent(s) will use the same PIN they used before. If not, your parent(s) may need to  apply for a new PIN.

*If you are considered a  dependent student, your parent(s) will also need to do this. 

I’m finished. What’s next?

That’s it. You’ve filled it out. We told you it wasn’t so bad. With the hard part over,  check out this page to learn who you will hear from and when.

Still have questions?

We’re here to help. Connect with us:  StudentAid.gov/social.

Nicole Callahan is a new media analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

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