Worried about how to pay for college?  You can worry a little less because I’m going to talk about the first step to getting financial aid!  In this post I’ll go through the steps on how to fill out the FAFSA and how this can help pay off your college expenses.  

What is it?

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is a form you can fill out to determine your eligibility to receive loans, federal grants, work-study awards, or other funding from your own school and/or state.  Your demonstrated financial need is calculated from the information you and your family provide on the FAFSA form.  This information includes your household size, income, and tax data.  Your family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is determined from these factors and subtracted from the total cost of attendance.  The result is your financial need and colleges will base how much financial aid you receive from this information.

You can also estimate your eligibility for aid before applying, linked here.

What You Need

To be eligible, you need to be a U.S. citizen, or an eligible noncitizen (U.S. national, permanent resident).  You also need a valid Social Security number.  You must be “enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program” and “be enrolled at least half-time to be eligible for Direct Loan Program funds.”  If you identify as male, you must also be registered with Selective Service between ages 18-25.  

I’ve also linked the full Federal Student Aid eligibility page for more specific information.

Necessary Documents:

Your Social Security Number

Your parents’ Social Security Numbers if you are a dependent

Your driver’s license number (if you have one)

Your alien registration number (if not a U.S. citizen)

Federal tax returns for you and your parents if you are a dependent

IRS W-2 information, IRS 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ

OR Foreign tax return

Records of untaxed income for you and your parents if you are a dependent

Asset information (bank statements) for you and your parents if you are a dependent


The FAFSA form is available as early as October 1st, so to file for the 2018-2019 FAFSA the form will be live on October 1st, 2017.  

Be diligent in checking the FAFSA deadlines.  Every state has its own deadline, and some states and/or colleges even give out aid on a first-come, first-served basis.  That said, try to apply for aid as soon as you can.  If you choose to, you may also apply for the FAFSA later because you have a full 18 months. This means that if you start college in fall 2017, you can file a FAFSA form until June 30, 2018 and receive aid retroactively.  

Fill it Out

If you’re a dependent student filling out a FAFSA, you need your own FSA ID and your parent must also create a separate FSA ID.

The recommended method of filling out the application is to create and log in with your FSA ID online.  You may also choose to fill out a PDF FAFSA to be mailed for processing.  This form may be printed out and completed manually, or you can use the screen-fillable option and enter your information on the computer before printing.  Note: the screen-fillable option does not save your information on the computer.

If you’d like a paper FAFSA, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 334-523-2691.  If you are hearing impaired, call the TTY line at 1-800-730-8913.

What Happens Next

After submitting the FAFSA, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be made available to you and summarize the data you entered.  This SAR will be sent to the school(s) you included in your application.  You can use this school code search to look for colleges you’re interested in including in your application.

Your school(s) will use this information to determine how much aid you may be eligible to receive and then create your financial aid package.  This package may include grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study jobs.  For more information on the different types of aid, I’ve linked our video on how to pay for college in the blog post as well.


I hope this video alleviated your financial aid worries a bit!  Check out our other videos and blog posts for more information about financial aid, college admissions tips, and test preparation materials!