How to fill out the FAFSA in 10 steps with pictures | finder.com
FAFSA in letters beside a piggy bank

10 steps to fill out the FAFSA

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A step-by-step guide with pictures for filling out your federal student aid application.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is notoriously time-consuming — as if applying for financial aid for the first time isn’t scary enough. But once you get started, you might be surprised to find it isn’t as much of a hassle as you’d expected.

These days, you can generally complete your entire application online in about 30 minutes. We take you through the basics of filling out your FAFSA and any roadblocks to avoid.

Step 1. Know your deadline.

FAFSA deadline for the 2018–2019 academic year: Saturday, June 30, 2018

Knowing your application’s deadline is the first step toward making sure you compete and submit it on time.

Sounds easy, right? Not so fast: While everyone must follow the federal deadline, some states and colleges impose their own FAFSA deadlines.

Reach out to your school’s financial aid office to find out when it requires you to submit your application. Be sure to clarify whether that date is when you need to submit your application online, when your school receives it or when the office processes your application.

Click on your school’s state below to learn about any specific due dates you need to keep in mind. Don’t know which school you’re going to yet? Look at the deadlines for all schools you’re considering attending.

StateDeadline
AlabamaVaries by school and program. Check with your school’s financial aid office.
AlaskaTo qualify for the Alaska Performance Scholarship, submit your application by Saturday, June 30, 2018.
To qualify for the Alaska Education Grant, submit your application as soon as possible — it was originally due on October 1, 2017.
For both programs, it’s best to submit your application ASAP, because funds are first come, first served to eligible applicants.
ArizonaVaries by school and program. Check with your school’s financial aid office.
ArkansasApplicants for Academic Challenge financial aid and the Higher Education Opportunity Grant must submit their FAFSA by midnight CT on Friday, June 1, 2018.
Workforce grants vary by school, so check with your financial aid office.
CaliforniaMost state financial aid programs require your application to be postmarked by March 2, 2018. To get a Cal Grant, you also must to submit your school-certified GPA by that date.

Additional community college Cal Grant applications must be postmarked no later than Sunday, September 2, 2018.

ColoradoVaries by school and program. Check with your school’s financial aid office.
ConnecticutYour FAFSA deadline was midnight CT on February 15, 2018. You might have additional requirements based on the type of funding you’re applying for. For more information on due dates, reach out to your school’s financial aid office.
DelawareFAFSA applications are due by midnight CTe on Sunday, April 15, 2018.
Washington, D.CFAFSA applications are due by midnight CT on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, for priority consideration.

If you’re applying for the TCTAG, submit your DC OneApp with documentation by Thursday, May 31, 2018.

Federal States of MicronesiaVaries by school and program. Check with your school’s financial aid office to learn about dates and any additional forms you’re required to submit.
FloridaYour FAFSA application must be processed by Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
GeorgiaVaries by school and program. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office for details.
GuamVaries by school and program. Reach out to your school to learn about dates and any additional forms you’re required to file.
HawaiiVaries by school and program. Contact your school’s financial aid office to learn about due dates and if you’re required to submit additional forms.
IdahoTo qualify for the Opportunity Grant, submit your FAFSA by midnight CT on March 1, 2018. Contact your school’s financial aid office to learn if you’re required to submit additional forms.
IllinoisYour FAFSA application is due as soon as possible — the original date was October 1, 2017. Financial aid is awarded first come, first served to qualified applicants.
IndianaYour FAFSA application must be submitted by midnight CT on Sunday, April 15, 2018.
IowaYou must submit your FAFSA application by Sunday, July 1, 2018. However, your application may be due earlier if you’re applying to a specific program — check with your school’s financial aid office.
KansasYour FAFSA is due by midnight CT on Sunday, April 1, 2018, to qualify for priority consideration. You might also need to submit additional forms — reach out to your school’s financial aid office for details.
KentuckySubmit your FAFSA as soon as possible — the original date was October 1, 2017. Funds are awarded first come, first served to eligible applicants.
LouisianaYour FAFSA application is due by Monday, July 1, 2019, but the government recommends you submit it by Sunday, July 1, 2018.
MaineYour FAFSA application is due by midnight CT on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.
Marshall IslandsDeadline varies by school, and you might be required to submit additional forms. Check with your school’s financial aid office for details.
MarylandFAFSA applications are due by midnight CT on March 1, 2018.
MassachusettsTo qualify for priority consideration, your FAFSA applications is due by midnight CT on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.
MichiganFAFSA applications are due by midnight CT on March 1, 2018.
MinnesotaYou must submit your FAFSA application within 30 days after the term starts by midnight CT.
MississippiTo qualify for a MTAG or MESG Grant, submit your FAFSA application by midnight CT on Saturday, September 15, 2018. To qualify for the HELP scholarship, submit your application by midnight CT on March 31, 2018.
MissouriTo qualify for priority consideration, submit your FAFSA application by February 1, 2018. You can submit your application up until midnight CT on Monday, April 2, 2018, but the government awards funds first come, first served.
MontanaVaries by school and program. Learn more about dates and if you’re required to fill out additional forms by reaching out to your school’s financial aid office.
Northern Mariana IslandsYour FAFSA application is due by midnight CT on Monday, April 30, 2018, for priority consideration. You might be required to submit additional forms — check with your school’s financial aid office.
NebraskaVaries by school and program. You can find out more about dates to remember through your school’s financial aid office.
NevadaCheck with your financial aid office — deadlines can vary depending on the type of aid you’re applying for. To qualify for the Silver State Opportunity Grant, submit your application as soon as possible — submissions opened on October 1, 2018.
New HampshireVaries by school and program. Get in touch with your school’s financial aid office to learn about dates and whether you’re required to submit any additional forms.
New JerseyThe FAFSA deadline for both the fall and spring terms is Saturday, September 15, 2018. For the spring term only, submit your application by February 15, 2018.

The one exception are students who received the 2018–2017 Tuition Aid Grant, which requires you to submit your application by midnight CT on Sunday, April 15, 2018.

New MexicoVaries by school and program. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office to learn about due dates and any additional forms you might be required to submit.
New YorkYour FAFSA application is due by midnight CT on Saturday, June 30, 2018. Ask your financial aid office about any required additional forms.
North CarolinaSubmit your application as soon as possible. Submissions opened on October 1, 2017, and the government awards financial aid first come, first served to eligible applicants.
North DakotaYou might have a better chance of getting the aid you need if you submit your application as soon as possible. Submissions opened October 1, 2018. and the government awards financial aid first come, first served to qualified applicants.
OhioYour FAFSA application is due by midnight CT on Monday, October 1, 2018.
OklahomaSubmit your application as soon as possible — submissions opened October 1, 2017, and financial aid is awarded first come, first served to qualified applicants.
OregonDeadlines vary by program, which you can find by visiting the Oregon student aid website or talking to your school’s financial aid office.
PalauVaries by school and program. You might have to fill out additional forms as well. Check with your school’s financial aid office for details.
PennsylaniaYour FAFSA deadline is due by midnight CT on Wednesday, August 1, 2018, if you’re enrolled for the first time at a Pennsylvania open-admission institution, community college, business school, trade school, technical school, hospital school of nursing or nontransferable two-year program.
All other students must submit their FAFSA application by midnight CT on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Reach out to your school to find out if you’re required to submit additional forms.
Puerto RicoVaries by school and program, so reach out to your school’s financial aid office for details.
Rhode IslandVaries by school and program. Reach out to your school’s financial office for details on dates and any additional forms you might need.
South CarolinaApplications for tuition grants are due by midnight CT on Saturday, June 30, 2018. Submit any applications for the SC Commission on Higher Education Need-Based Grants as soon as possible — submissions opened on October 1, 2017, and awards are given first come, first served to eligible applicants.
South DakotaVaries by school and program. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office to find out about dates and if you’re required to submit additional forms.
TennesseeState grant applicants who received awards in the previous year should have applied by January 16, 2018, to receive their award. All other applicants receive funds first come, first served and by need, which means they should apply as soon as possible.

Tennessee Promise applications were also due by January 16, 2017.
To enter into the State Lottery for the fall term, submit your documents by midnight CT on Saturday, September 1, 2018. For the spring and summer terms, submit your application by Friday, February 1, 2019.

TexasSubmit your application as soon as possible — submissions opened on October 1, 2018. Students attending a Texas public college are required to submit their FAFSA application by March 15, 2018, for priority consideration. Private colleges might follow different criteria, so reach out to your school’s financial aid office for details.
US Virgin IslandsVaries by school and program. Contact your school’s financial aid office to learn about due dates and additional forms you might be required to submit.
UtahVaries by school and program. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office for specifics.
VermontSubmit your FAFSA as soon as possible — submissions opened October 1, 2017, and awards are given first come, first served to eligible students.
VirginiaCheck with your school’s financial aid office. Deadlines can vary and you might be required to submit additional forms.
WashingtonSubmit your FAFSA as soon as possible. Submissions opened on October 1, 2017, and awards are handed out first come, first served to qualified students.
West VirginiaTo qualify for the Promise scholarship, submit your application by March 1, 2018. If it’s your first time applying for Promise, submit it on the CFVW website — and you might want to reach out to your school’s financial aid office for additional assistance.

Students applying to the WV higher Education Grant Program are required to submit their applications by Sunday, April 15, 2018.

WisconsinDates can vary by school and program. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office for details.
WyomingDates can vary depending on your school or financial aid program. Connect with your school’s financial aid office for details.

Step 2. Get your documents together.

The documents you’ll need compete your FAFSA depend on your citizenship and financial independence. Here’s what to have on hand when applying for federal aid for the 2018–2019 academic year.

Citizenship and financial status Documents
US citizen, dependent
  • Your Social Security card or number.
  • Your driver’s license, if you have one.
  • You and your parents’ previous year’s federal income tax returns.
  • You and your parents’ previous year’s W-2 forms.
  • Bank statements for you and your parents.
  • Records of you and your parents’ previous year’s untaxed income.
  • Your parent’s investment records and other business records.
US citizen, independent
  • Your Social Security card.
  • Your driver’s license, if you have one.
  • Your previous year’s federal income tax return.
  • Your previous year’s W-2 form.
  • Statements from bank accounts in your name.
  • Records of any untaxed income from previous year’s.
Not a US citizen, dependent
  • Your driver’s license, if you have one.
  • You and your parents’ previous year’s federal income tax returns.
  • Records of you and your parents’ untaxed income from previous year’s.
  • You and your parents’ previous year’s W-2 forms.
  • Statements from bank accounts in you and your parents’ names.
  • Records of your parent’s current business records.
Not a US citizen, independent
  • Your driver’s license, if you have one.
  • Your previous year’s federal income tax return.
  • Records of any 2016 untaxed income.
  • Your previous year’s W-2 form.
  • Current statements from bank accounts in your name.

How do I know if I'm a dependent?

The FAFSA asks applicants a series of questions to help you determine whether you’re a dependent. Congress sets these criteria, which are different from those used by the IRS.

Even if you file your own taxes, you might be considered a dependent. Generally, dependency depends on factors like age, marital status and the type of degree you’re working on.

Step 3. Create an FSA ID.

You know how much time you’ve have to submit your forms, and you’ve gathered the necessary documents. Now, you’re ready to start your application.

Well, almost: You need to create a FSA ID first.

  1. Go to the Federal Student Aid website and click FAFSA: Applying for Aid.
    FAFSA application screenshots
  2. Click on the green and white Create Your FSA ID Now button.
  3. Enter your email address, a user name and a password. Click Next.
  4. Follow the directions to enter your personal details before verifying and submitting your form.

If this is your first time completing your FAFSA, you’re good to go. It can take from one to three days for FSA to verify your information.

    If you’ve filled out FAFSA in the past, log in to your account for the FSA to populate fields in your application automatically.

    Parents of dependents must create an FSA ID to submit financial information about themselves. If they already created one for a sibling, they can keep use the same login details.

    Make sure you and your parents are the only people using your passwords. According to the Department of Education, a common FAFSA misstep is when parents and students fill out the form using the wrong password.

    Step 4. Start your application.

    Once you’re ready to start your application, go back to the Federal Student Aid website:

    1. Hover over FAFSA: Applying for Aid in the top navigation bar and click Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
    2. Log in to start the application. If you’re a student, select Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID; parents should select Enter the student’s information. Then click Next.
      FAFSA application screenshots
    3. Select which type of FAFSA form you want to fill out:
      The 2018–2019 FAFSA form is for students who need financial aid between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019.
      The 2017–2018 FAFSA form is for students who want financial aid between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018.
      If you still haven’t completed your 2017–2018 FAFSA form, start with that one first, wait three days and then complete the 2018–2019 form.
      FAFSA application screenshots
    4. Make a save key — an important temporary password that you and your parents can use to log in to your application. It also allows to log back in and pick up where you left off, if you need to take a break.
      FAFSA application screenshots

    Step 5. Complete your demographic information.

    FAFSA first asks for your name, date of birth and other basic identifying information. If you’ve already submitted a FAFSA, it automatically completes this section.

    Be sure to record this information exactly how it appears on official documents. For example, even if everyone calls you Tony, write Anthony, if that’s your legal name.

    FAFSA application screenshots

    Step 6. Select your schools.

    First-timers should select every school you’re considering attending — even if you haven’t gotten an acceptance letter or completed an application. This way, you’ll have your application in on time wherever you end up going. Other schools will simply ignore your FAFSA if you end up not attending.

    You can enter up to 10 schools on your FAFSA form. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, one strategy is to list your 10 most likely choices and revise them later, after you’ve further narrowed down your schools.

    FAFSA application screenshot

    Step 7. Answer questions about your dependency status.

    If you answer yes to any of the questions below, FAS might consider you independent. If so, you can skip to Step 9.

    • Will you be 24 or older by December 31st of the school year you need financial aid for?
    • Will you be working on a master’s or doctoral degree?
    • Are you married? Divorced? Separated?
    • Are you providing at least half of support costs for any children or other dependents that live with you?
    • Have your parents died since you turned 13?
    • Have you been in foster care or a ward or dependent of the court since you turned 13?
    • Are you an emancipated minor or in a court-appointed legal guardianship?
    • Are you a homeless unaccompanied youth or at risk of becoming homeless?
    • Are you currently serving in the US armed forces (excluding training)?
    • Are you a veteran?

    FAFSA application screenshot

    Step 8. Complete the section on parent demographics.

    A parent or somebody who’s legally in charge of you must fill out this section — for example, your biological parents, stepparents or adoptive parents. If your parent passed away but your stepparent is alive, your stepparent is not considered your legal parent unless they’ve adopted you. Same goes for foster parents, legal guardians, older siblings, grandparents and other extended family.

    Determining which parent to choose can also be tricky. If your parents are still married or live together, both parents must complete this section. If they live separately, ask the parent you’ve stayed with more in the past year (or gives you the most financial support, if you haven’t stayed with either). If that parent has remarried, your stepparent must also complete the parent information on your FAFSA.

    Your parents will enter personal and financial details like their birthday, marital status, household size and tax information.
    FAFSA application screenshot

    Step 9. Fill out information on your finances.

    You and your parents will need to upload information on your personal finances. But it’s not as complicated as you might think: FSA uses the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that allows you to upload tax forms without having to get them yourself ahead of time. You’re eligible to use this tool if you’ve already submitted your taxes for the year (which is likely, given the new application dates).

    To use IRS DRT, select that you’ve already completed your taxes. If you’re eligible, you’ll see a Link to IRS button at the bottom of the page. Once you’ve completed the transfer, you should receive a message confirming that it was a success.

    In all fields the IRS can answer, you’ll see Transferred from the IRS. But give your form an eye for blank fields, filling out any required information the IRS wasn’t able to answer for you.
    FAFSA application screenshot

    Step 10. Sign and submit your FAFSA.

    Electronically sign your FAFSA and any supporting documents by logging in with your FSA ID. If you’re a dependent, your parents will also need to sign your FAFSA form by logging in with their individual FSA ID.

    Signing your FAFSA form online is the quickest and easiest way to submit your application for federal aid. However, you can submit a hard copy of the signature page by selecting Other options to sign and submit. Select Print a signature page, sign it and mail it in. This option can take longer for FSA to receive and process, so submit your hard copies well in advance of the deadline.

    FAFSA application screenshot

    What happens after I submit my FAFSA?

    What happens after your FAFSA depends on the type of federal aid you’re applying for. After you submit your application, FAFSA shares your information with the schools you listed on the application, your state’s higher education agency and higher education agencies in the states of schools that you applied for.

    Get your Student Aid Report (SAR)

    Three days after you submit your application, FSA sends you an SAR containing all of the data you submitted in your application, excluding any tax information provided by the IRS. Now is your chance to carefully check it for any mistakes. You can fix any mistakes you find by logging back in to your application and saving your changes.

    The one exception: Entering the wrong Social Security number. In this case, you might need to compete new FAFSA application. Otherwise, reach out to your school’s financial aid office and ask them to change your Social Security number for you.

    If you have two to three weeks, you can update your Social Security number on your SAR, sign it and mail it back to SAR. Note that you can only take advantage of this option once.

    Verify your information

    Your SAR might say that you’re selected for verification, which the FSA requires randomly. If you’re selected, your school reaches out for documentation to back up your application. It’ll typically gives you a deadline to submit your documents before you lose eligibility for financial aid.

    Change your information

    While you can’t change most information on your FAFSA, you’re responsible for keeping your application as current as possible — particularly when that information affects your dependency status (like getting married), the number of family members in your household and those who are currently in college.

    If you experience significant changes in your finances, you might want to reach out to your financial aid office to discuss potential steps. For everything else, log in with your FSA ID, go to the My FAFSA page and click Make FAFSA Corrections.

    You can update your FAFSA by reaching out to your school’s financial aid office (only one school, if you listed multiple institutions) and asking them to make the changes for you. Otherwise, you can write in corrections by hand on a paper SAR and mail it in.

    Receive your financial aid award letter

    After your school receives your information, it sends you a letter announcing you how much aid you’re eligible to receive for that period. When you receive your award letter depends on when you apply and how your school’s financial aid office works. Typically, you’ll get it anywhere between the winter before your courses begin to just before you start classes — sometimes after, if you’re applying for the spring semester as a first-time student.

    Select which type of aid you want to accept, starting with the financing options that you don’t have to pay off — grants, scholarships and work-study. When it comes to accepting loans, look at federal student loans before state or local government loans. Consider saving private student loans for when you’ve run out of federal funding.

    Background information about the FAFSA

    The FAFSA is a financial aid application that all students must submit to qualify for federal aid. This aid includes grants, student loans, work-study programs and any other help that comes from the government. Colleges typically use your FAFSA to calculate your financial aid package for the year.

    Even if you don’t think you qualify for federal financial aid, you might want to complete your FAFSA anyhow. You could be eligible for something you didn’t expect, potentially lowering the cost of your education. For instance, nearly 60% of applicants who applied for federal aid in 2015–2016 qualified for a Pell Grant — a federal grant given to students based on financial need.

    Recent changes to FAFSA

    The US Department of Education Federal Student Aid recently updated its process to enable students to submit their applications as early as October 1st — about 10 months ahead of the school year. Previously, students had to wait until January 1st to submit their applications.

    Earlier acceptance means you might be required to submit tax data from two years before the year you’ll need financial aid. For example, if you complete your 2018–2019 FAFSA on October 2, 2017, you’re typically required to provide tax information from 2016, rather than 2017.

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    Bottom line

    The FAFSA is not nearly as complicated as it was back in the day, when the process required snail mail. You can ensure a smooth application by readying your documents and having the information you need on hand to complete your form.

    Because many states award aid first come, first served to students who qualify, submit your application as soon as you can.

    Want to learn about how student loans work after you’ve filled out the FAFSA? Read our comprehensive guide to student loans to get the basics on federal and private lending, paying off your debt and refinancing for more favorable rates and terms.

    Questions you might have about financial aid

    Images sourced from https://ifap.ed.gov/

    Anna Serio

    Anna Serio is a staff writer untangling everything you need to know about personal loans, including student, car and business loans. She spent five years living in Beirut, where she was a news editor for The Daily Star and hung out with a lot of cats. She loves to eat, travel and save money.

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