Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances. Although we receive compensation from our partner lenders, whom we will always identify, all opinions are our own. Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS # 1681276, is referred to here as "Credible."
If you’re a student applying to college this year, possibly the most important thing you must know is how to apply for federal aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
Completing the FAFSA doesn’t have to feel intimidating. The process can be easy if you’re well prepared, and it’s definitely worth the time and effort.
- What is the FAFSA and why is it important?
- All FAFSA deadlines
- How to complete the FAFSA
- What are some common FAFSA mistakes I should avoid?
- Who should submit a FAFSA application?
- How to determine your dependency status
- FAFSA FAQS
What is the FAFSA and why is it important?
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and students (and their parents) complete it in order to receive government financial aid for college. The FAFSA helps colleges and the U.S. Department of Education evaluate your financial need, and determine how much financial support you require.
The FAFSA is your portal to federal and state student aid, including loans (money you have to pay back), grants (money you don’t have to pay back), and work-study positions (money you have to work for).
The FAFSA helps determine not only what aid you qualify for, but your expected family contribution toward the cost of your education, which will vary by school. The information you provide about your family’s income on the FAFSA is shared with the colleges you intend to apply to, and state higher education agencies where those schools are located.
All FAFSA deadlines
You can submit the FAFSA for the 2023-2024 academic year starting Oct. 1, 2022, up until June 30, 2024. Be sure not to miss the deadline so you don’t miss out on any federal financial aid you might qualify for.
The 2023-2024 FAFSA deadline is midnight Central time on June 30, 2024. Remember that states and colleges may have earlier deadlines, so the sooner you complete the form, the better. You can find your state’s student aid deadline on the StudentAid.gov website.
|FAFSA open date||Federal FAFSA deadline||Deadline to submit any corrections|
|2022-23||Oct. 1, 2021||June 30, 2023||Sept. 10, 2023|
|2023-24||Oct. 1, 2022||June 30, 2024||Sept. 10, 2024|
State FAFSA deadlines
Double check with your school’s financial aid office to confirm all dates below for the colleges you plan on applying to. It’s also worth asking your college about what its deadlines mean. Ask if the deadline refers to the date your FAFSA is processed or the date the college receives the processed FAFSA information.
|Alabama||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|Arizona||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|Colorado||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|District of Columbia||
|Georgia||As soon as possible after Oct. 1 of the prior year|
|Hawaii||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|Idaho||Opportunity Scholarship: March 1|
|Illinois||As soon as possible after Oct. 1 of the prior year|
|Kentucky||As soon as possible after Oct. 1 of the prior year|
|Louisiana||July 1 of the following year
(Feb. 1 of the current year recommended)
|Minnesota||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|Montana||Dec. 1 of the prior year|
|Nebraska||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|New Hampshire||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|New Mexico||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|New York||June 30 of the following year|
|North Carolina||As soon as possible after Oct. 1 of the prior year|
|North Dakota||As soon as possible after Oct. 1 of the prior year|
|Oklahoma||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|Rhode Island||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|South Dakota||Check with your school's financial aid office|
(Private and two-year institutions might have different deadlines.)
|Utah||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|Vermont||As soon as possible after Oct. 1 of the prior year|
|Virginia||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|Washington||As soon as possible after Oct. 1 of the prior year|
|Wisconsin||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|Wyoming||Check with your school's financial aid office|
|* Be sure to double-check all application dates with your school's financial aid office.|
How to complete the FAFSA
The FAFSA is critical in the financial aid process, so you’ll want to know the correct way of filling it out. Filling out the FAFSA doesn’t need to be overwhelming or confusing. Use these tips for filling out the FAFSA to make the process smooth and headache free.
1. Set up an FSA ID
An FSA ID is your Federal Student Aid Identification. You’ll need to set up a username and password that will give you access to U.S. Department of Education websites. Your FSA ID identifies you as someone who can view personal information on these websites, including the FAFSA.
2. Gather documents
You’ll need various documents to fill out the FAFSA properly. Have all these documents on hand before sitting down to fill out the application:
You’ll need to gather this information for both you and your parents if you’re a dependent student, or for you and your spouse if you’re married. If you’re single and can’t be claimed as a dependent, you’ll only need your information for each item listed above.
*Some students will be able to use the IRS data retrieval tool to automatically transfer information from these forms to the FAFSA. However, not all students will be able to take advantage of this tool. Learn more about whether the IRS data retrieval tool can help you on the StudentAid.gov website.
3. Fill out the FAFSA
The next step is to actually fill out the FAFSA application. You’ll do this by going to the StudentAid.gov website.
Here are the steps you’ll take to complete the FAFSA:
- Fill in your personal information, including your name, Social Security number, and other identifying details.
- List the colleges and schools that you want to receive information from your FAFSA. You can list up to 10 schools if you haven’t decided which school you’d like to attend yet.
- Determine whether you’re a dependent or independent student. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll also include your parents’ information.
- Enter all your financial information.
- Sign and submit your FAFSA.
Filling out the FAFSA can be a streamlined process. As long as you prepare yourself beforehand, you should have no issues filling out the application. Collect the appropriate documentation and have the list of schools you want to send your FAFSA to before starting the application.
What are some common FAFSA mistakes I should avoid?
Many FAFSA mistakes are easily avoidable, so be sure to understand them before getting started. Here are a few to keep in mind:
- Complete the FAFSA, even if you don’t think you qualify for aid. Don’t skip the FAFSA entirely. You’d be surprised at how many people miss out on opportunities at federal or state funding because they didn’t think the FAFSA was for them. Take the time to fill it out — after all, you could end up qualifying for aid you weren’t aware of.
- Only apply using the StudentAid.gov website or mobile app. Make sure you’re using the StudentAid.gov website or mobile app to fill out your application. Some non-government websites will masquerade as the official application and charge a fee, but keep in mind the FAFSA should never cost you anything.
- Submit the application as soon as possible. While you should be sure to submit your FAFSA before the deadline, it’s a good idea to get it in sooner. You could miss out on free money for college by waiting, as many funds are first come, first served.
- Fill out the application carefully to avoid delays. Fill out the FAFSA carefully to avoid revisions and processing delays — or having to resubmit your application entirely. Read the instructions and definitions before deciding on each answer. There are commonly errors in the following:
- Social security number
- Household size
- Dependency status
- Who is reported as a parent
- Number of family members in college
Who should submit a FAFSA application?
All U.S. citizens and permanent residents attending college or graduate school in the U.S. should complete the FAFSA. Some financial aid offices at universities will even ask international students to apply, as the FAFSA can help them evaluate whether these students are eligible for institutional aid.
Some people mistakenly think that only students who need help paying for college should fill out the FAFSA. But not filling out the FAFSA simply because you think you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid would be a big mistake. For colleges, the FAFSA is a way to determine whether you qualify for any sort of financial aid, including assistance that’s not need-based. If you don’t fill out the FAFSA, you may not qualify for any kind of aid from your school or the government.
Can I fill out the FAFSA if my parents are undocumented immigrants?
If your parents are undocumented immigrants, but you’re in the U.S. legally, you can still fill out the FAFSA. While filling out the FAFSA won’t endanger your parents (by law, other federal agencies can’t see your FAFSA application), you should consult a financial aid professional before filling out the form. You can also call the FAFSA hotline at 1-800-433-3243 to ask them about any special steps you might be required to take if your parents are undocumented.
If you’re undocumented, you can’t receive federal money in any form and shouldn’t submit the FAFSA to the Department of Education. You may qualify for in-state tuition, or aid from you state or college that’s earmarked for undocumented immigrants. In some cases, schools may ask you to fill out a printed version of the FAFSA to calculate your expected family contribution and determine what aid you qualify for.
How to determine your dependency status
The FAFSA requires you to determine whether you’re dependent on a parent or not. Being dependent means that you’re legally dependent on someone besides yourself — most high-school students are dependent on their parents.
For the purposes of the FAFSA, a parent is any of the following:
- Your birth mother or father
- A parent who adopted you
- A step-parent who’s married to your birth or adoptive parent
If you live with a parent (as defined above), or you live alone, or with grandparents/siblings/close friends, but are still in contact with your parents, you’re considered to be dependent.
However, you may be considered independent if you’re:
- 24 years old or older
- Financially supporting children of your own
- Orphaned, in foster care, in legal guardianship, or a ward of the court
The FAFSA walks you through a series of questions in order to help you determine your dependency status, but knowing your status ahead of time can help you figure out which documents you’ll need to gather.
Here are a few frequently asked questions about the FAFSA that may help with the application process and what to expect.
Do I already have a Federal Student Aid ID?
If you’ve submitted the FAFSA in past years, you should already have a Federal Student Aid ID (or FSA ID). If you need to create one, you can do so on the StudentAid.gov website.
You’ll use your FSA ID each year you submit a FAFSA application, as well as to look up your federal loans once you graduate, so be sure to note your username and password somewhere secure.
If you’re a dependent student, your parent or guardian will also need to create an FSA ID, and you can’t create one on their behalf.
Do I need a parent’s help to apply for FAFSA?
If you’re classified as a dependent for the FAFSA, you’ll likely need your parents’ help filling out the FAFSA, especially for the sections pertaining to their assets.
You might want to set up a time to sit down with them and fill out the application in one go.
But the mobile app allows students and parents to start the FAFSA on the app or a desktop computer, and finish it on another device. You don’t have to be in front of the same computer at the same time to collaborate.
Which schools should I apply to?
Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid doesn’t cost a thing, so you can (and should) provide your information to as many schools as you’re even remotely interested in attending (if you’d like to provide your FAFSA info to more than 10 schools, follow these steps).
College applications, on the other hand, come with application fees averaging $40, with many schools charging $75 or more, according to U.S. News & World Report. So applying to every college or university you might conceivably be interested in could be prohibitively expensive.
It goes without saying that what you’ll pay to apply to colleges pales in comparison to all of the expenses you’ll rack up getting your degree.
Fortunately, many tools are available to help students get a sense of not only the cost of their degree but the quality of the education they can expect to receive. These tools can help students minimize the student loan debt they take on and maximize their ability to repay it.
The Department of Education’s College Scorecard offers data on 7,000 schools, with thousands of data points providing insight into key performance indicators like college completion rates, debt and repayment statistics, and post-college earnings.
College Scorecard will let you check an individual school’s net price by income, the typical debt load of graduates, graduation rate, median earnings 10 years after entering school, size and makeup of the student body, and available academic programs.
What are the federal codes for the schools I’m applying to?
University financial aid offices use the FAFSA to compile each student’s financial aid package, so you’ll need to indicate which schools your FAFSA should be sent to. The FAFSA asks for federal school codes, which you can look up here.
Even if you’re not 100% sure about which schools you’re applying to, come up with a short list of up to 10 schools and get your application submitted early — you can always update it later.
Have I entered my information correctly?
Once all your answers are in, it’s important to review the entire application for accuracy, before submitting the form.
As you’re filling out the application, remember that you can always call the FAFSA hotline at 1-800-433-3243 for official answers to any questions or concerns.
Does my Student Aid Report reflect my application accurately?
Once you’ve submitted your FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) by email (if you’ve provided an email address on your application) or by snail mail.
Electronic SARs are sent anywhere between three days and three weeks from when you apply, depending on whether you’ve applied online or on paper, and whether you’ve supplied an email address.
As long as your application is complete, your SAR will include an Expected Family Contribution, which is used to determine your eligibility for both federal and institutional need-based aid. Once you receive your SAR, review it in detail to make sure all the information is correct.
What you won’t get is the cost of attendance, grants, and scholarships that they’re able to provide to you. To estimate your net cost — the amount that you’ll have to pay out of pocket, or borrow — look for online net price calculators on each school’s website (you’ll often find links to a school’s net price calculator on College Scorecard).
Do I need to make corrections, updates, or complete a verification process?
If there’s an error on your SAR or your situation has changed, you can make certain changes on the StudentAid.gov website or by mail. Some schools may ask you to verify the accuracy of the information submitted on your FAFSA, so it’s important to double check each answer.
Getting through the FAFSA is no small achievement, but keep in mind you’ll have to go through the same process each year you’re in school, so use this year as a learning experience to make it easier in the future.
If you had trouble locating the appropriate documents, perhaps add a copy of each document to a FAFSA folder as you come across it — for example, when you file your taxes. Similarly, if you had a number of corrections to make after receiving your SAR, think about how you can avoid unnecessary steps in following years.
With the careful completion of the FAFSA each year, you’ll be considered for the large majority of federal and state funding for school, so it’s well worth your time to fill it out as you progress through school.
Keep Reading: Summer Financial Aid and Student Loans for Summer School