FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid
The FAFSA can be filled out only on fafsa.ed.gov. It opens on October 1 of the student's senior year of high school.
Please note that there will be changes to the FAFSA starting October 1, 2022 for the 2023-2024 FAFSA, so some details may change.
To fill out the FAFSA, first Create an Account
The student will have an Federal Student Aid Account/ FSA ID and the parent will have a separate FSA ID. The student and parent cannot share an email address. This step can be completed before the FAFSA opens.
See: Create Account/ FSA ID on student aid.gov.
For assistance and tips, download Create Account/ FSA ID Worksheet.
Determine your FAFSA Parent
For a full explanation, see Reporting Parent Information on studentaid.gov.
Gather the Necessary Documents
See the full list of documents needed. You will need documents from the prior prior tax year. If your student will start college in 2023, then you will need 2021 tax information.
Fill out the FAFSA online on fafsa.ed.gov
The FAFSA will open on October 1 every year. You will be able to save your progress and return.
Many families are able to use the IRS Retrieval tool which pulls tax return information from IRS records and populates the form.
- Before you attempt to fill out the FAFSA, locate the parent's prior prior year tax return. If the student anticipates starting college in the 2023-2024 school year, the FAFSA will use the 2021 tax return information. "Prior prior" indicates that the tax year used is two years prior to the starting year.
- Be sure that the student information is in the student fields and the parent information is in the parent fields.
- If you get stuck, don't give up. Try the following resources:
- See Filling Out the FAFSA on studentaid.gov
- FAFSA Help Line 1.800.433.3243 Hours: Monday - Friday 8:00 am-11:00 pm
Saturday & Sunday 11:00 am- 5:00 pm
- Other resources on Financial Aid Toolkit
Why do the FAFSA if you don't think you will qualify for need-based aid?
There are a few reasons why families who can pay for all/ most of college still fill out the FAFSA:
- Some colleges require it even for merit scholarships.
- Some families, even if they can pay for college, have their students take out the minimum Direct Unsubsidized Loan so that they have some investment in the process and start to establish credit.
- The student may be eligible for work-study and the FAFSA is the only way to qualify.
- If circumstances change, it is much easier for a financial aid office to formulate a package if the student is already in the system. Then it is a revision rather than starting from scratch.
Forecasting FAFSA Information
It is never too early to start figuring out about what the FAFSA formulas will yield. Keep in mind that the FAFSA information will be forwarded to colleges; the FAFSA does not 'give' money itself. Also see the Financial Fit section of the College Fit page.
1. The FAFSA4Caster
The online FAFSA4Caster asks a series of questions and estimates your eligibility for federal student aid.
2. EFC Calculator
The College Board's EFC Calculator is regarded as the most accurate in estimating what your Expected Family Contribution will be. Keep in mind that most people are shocked by their EFCs.
3. Work Out Your Own EFC (more difficult option but it could pay off!)
StudentAid.ed.gov's EFC Worksheet is a bit complicated, but it will help you work through your information similar to how the FAFSA & FAFSA processing will. Be aware that the PDF has many components and using it may be confusing. At the time of this posting, the worksheet is for the 2017-2018 award year.
- View or download the EFC Formula Worksheet from StudentAid.ed.gov.
- Figure out which worksheet you will need by reading starting on page 2. Most families will use the Formula A Worksheet on pages 9-12, and some will use the Simplified Formula A worksheet on pages 13-16.
- Fill out the worksheet as directed. This is not a form that will be sent in. It is merely a worksheet to give you an idea of what you might be expected to pay and to show how the FAFSA and colleges calculate your EFC. Going through this process, though laborious, will demystify the FAFSA and help you later when you are comparing financial aid offers.
FAFSA/ Financial Aid Overview
See the FAFSA Resource page for a more extensive list.