How Do You Fill Out the FAFSA?

Try these tips for applying for Federal Financial Aid

Getting career training is a great way to improve your marketable skills. If you are considering career training, but are worried about the tuition, don’t lose hope. You may be eligible for financial aid.

All students who are considering post-secondary education should explore their financial aid options. The first step in this process is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA. FAFSA is free, and it can be done completely online. Or, if you do not have Internet access, you can apply on paper.

The FAFSA online process will take a few hours, but it is worth it. Here are some tips on making it a more efficient process.

Step 1. Make sure you are eligible for FAFSA
FAFSA requires that you meet certain guidelines in order to be eligible to receive student aid. Read over the Basic Eligibility Criteria before you begin. Being eligible does not guarantee you any financial aid. It just means you are eligible.

Step 2. Apply for admission to one or more schools
You don’t have to decide on which school you want to attend at this point. But you should complete the application process for all the schools you are considering attending. Applying to a school doesn’t mean you are going to go there. It just tells the school that you are interested. This step is important, because you will need to list the schools on your FAFSA.

Step 3. Set up your username and password (your FSA ID)
You will need to set up an online account. The first step in doing this is to create your FSA ID. It only takes a few minutes to create it. If you are a dependent, your parents will also need to create an FSA ID.

Step 4. Pull together all your documentation
In order to determine your potential aid, the FAFSA asks for a number of financial documents. To speed up the process of applying, it helps to gather up everything you need into one place before you log on to the FAFSA online system. Here are the documents you will need:

  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Driver’s license number (not required if you do not have a license)
  • Non U.S. citizens only: your Alien Registration Number
  • Bank statements
  • Federal tax returns, W-2 information, 1040 forms, and any other records of income received.
  • Records of untaxed income (e.g., veterans’ non-educational benefits or child support received)
  • All of the above information for your parents, if you are dependent.
  • A list of schools* where you have applied.

*Including your list of schools is very important. These schools will get your financial aid report, and they will use it to determine whether they can offer you a financial aid package. If a school is not on the list, it will not get your results. (But don’t worry, it’s still possible to add a school after you’ve submitted your FAFSA; it’s just much easier to add the school before you submit it.)

5. Watch a FAFSA tutorial online
If the online FAFSA feels intimidating, then take advantage of the resources that are here to help. This video tutorial lays out all the steps you need to follow. Or if you prefer written instructions, the page on Filling Out the FAFSA offers links that explain each section of the application.

6. Double check everything!
It is very easy to type an incorrect number into your application. Double check all of your numbers! Also re-read your words and check for spelling errors. Some people have been known to misspell their own names, which can lead to problems in processing your application. Once you are sure that your numbers and words are correct, you can file your application.

7. Wait for your Student Aid Report
About three weeks after you submit the FAFSA, you should receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). This is the same report that your schools will receive. Check the figures on this report to make sure they are accurate. If they are not, you will need to make corrections to your SAR. If the numbers are correct, then you do not need to do anything with this report.

A note about the “Expected Family Contribution.” On your SAR, you should see an Expected Family Contribution figure. That number is simply a figure that helps schools calculate how much financial aid they can offer you. It is not the amount of money you will have to pay.

8. Wait to hear from your schools

After your schools receive your SAR, they will contact you to let you know if they can offer you a financial aid package. At this point, you can compare the packages that different schools offer to you, and this may help you in deciding the school you want to attend. If you do not hear from your schools within a few weeks of receiving your SAR, you can call them.

A few tips to remember

  • Double-check your information before submitting your FAFSA.
  • The FAFSA is free to fill out at https://fafsa.gov/. Scammers may want to charge you for it. Don’t fall for any scams. The application process is free!
  • If you do get offered a financial aid package, make sure you understand it completely. For example, you should know that grants do not need to be repaid, but that loans must be repaid with interest.
  • If you are offered a large loan that you don’t think you will be able to repay, then you might want to reconsider your plan. One rule of thumb is that your monthly loan payments after graduation should not exceed 10% of your expected pretax monthly income.
  • For more information on understanding grants and loans, view the Types of Student Aid video.

This guide was provided by the Branford Hall Career Institute. We offer career training for Medical Assistants, Massage Therapists, Medical Billing and Coding, Culinary Arts, Professional Fitness Trainers, and more. Contact us to learn more about your career options at Branford Hall.