FAFSA Tips: How to Apply for Financial Aid

FAFSA Tips: How to Apply for Financial Aid
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  • 0:05 What Is FAFSA?
  • 1:09 Dates and Deadlines
  • 1:50 Getting Ready
  • 2:48 Completing the FAFSA
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jamila Nassar

Jamila is a certified school counselor in the state of Indiana. She has worked in education for 15 years.

Given the consistent rise in college tuition, finding ways to pay for college is on the forefront of every student's mind. Applying for college funding through the ''Federal Student Aid'' office is one of the easiest ways to begin. Listen to this lesson to find out how to get started with your Free Application for Federal Student Aid and be on your way to paying for college.

What Is FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA, is your first step to finding money for college. This application is provided by Federal Student Aid, an office in the Department of Education. Federal Student Aid uses the information on your FAFSA to determine if you qualify for grants, loans or work-study funding from the federal government. Many schools and scholarship providers also use the information on the FAFSA to determine eligibility for their resources. Each year, Federal Student Aid provides college students 150 billion dollars in grants, loans and work-study monies. This same office has 1,200 employees and processes 22 million FAFSA applications a year.

The most common way to fill out the FAFSA is online at using FAFSA on the Web. You can also download a PDF and mail it or call for a paper copy. This lesson will focus on completing the FAFSA online as this is probably the quickest and most convenient way.

Dates and Deadlines

The FAFSA is available by October the year prior to the year you're starting school. The federal deadline for completing your FAFSA is in June. Since there might be state deadlines and school deadlines, you should not wait until June to finish. I always tell students to start the FAFSA as soon as possible (October 1st) to increase their chances of getting as much funding as they can. For some schools you might get a better financial aid package because you finish before their priority deadline. To find out the specific dates, you can visit the FAFSA website and always check with your prospective schools.

Getting Ready

Filling out the FAFSA makes a lot of students nervous because the application is long and it asks for what seems like a lot of information. The vocabulary might be new to you, and that can add to the frustration. You can reduce the stress if you take the time to read the application instructions and the online resources available to you on the Federal Student Aid websites. The best part about the FAFSA is that you only have to fill out the FAFSA to find out if you qualify for funding. There are no essays or interviews required, and the following years you will only have to log in to your account and update your information.

The eligibility criteria for filling out the FAFSA is listed at In general, to be eligible for student aid, you must be a citizen or eligible noncitizen of the United States with a valid social security number and have obtained a high school diploma or GED. This is not an exhaustive list, so be sure to check online prior to starting the FAFSA.

Completing the FAFSA

Now let's take a look at the basic steps to completing your FAFSA.

Step One

Gather your information. You will need a variety of information for your FAFSA, including your social security number, tax returns and a list of schools you plan to attend. Check the FAFSA website for a detailed list of documents that will be needed to complete your application. Some students will qualify for the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which will automatically input your tax information into the online application.

This is also the time to determine if you are considered a dependent or not. Again, visit to get more information on what qualifies as a dependent. If you are considered a dependent, you will need your parents' information (like tax returns) in addition to your own.

Step Two

Get a Federal Student Aid PIN. The PIN is different than the password you create when you first make your account. When you get a PIN, you will be able to sign your application electronically. For students who are dependent, their parents or guardians will need a PIN too. To get a PIN, visit

Step Three

Obtain and complete a copy of the FAFSA on the Web worksheet. This step is not required, but if you plan to fill out your application online, I highly recommend it. The worksheet has all the questions needed to fill out the online version. Once you fill out the worksheet, you simply need to enter the data in the online form. Remember, this is not the application itself; it is simply a tool you can use to get through the online application.

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