How To Apply For Financial Aid


Updated September 19, 2023

How To Apply For Financial Aid is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Students can begin their financial aid search by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The federal government uses information provided in this form to determine students' financial aid eligibility. Gathering the necessary documents takes time, but many students see a financial return.

This single form allows learners to apply for many grants and loans at once. Students may qualify for subsidized loans, which do not begin accruing interest until after graduation. Each year, students can fill out this form from October 1 through June 30.

What do I need to fill out the FAFSA form? This is a common question among first-year students. Applicants need to provide tax information. Dependents use their guardian's tax information. This guide covers things you need to fill out the FAFSA form.

How Can I Get Financial Aid?

The federal government distributes aid to learners who demonstrate financial need. Eligible students possess U.S. citizenship or a qualified alternative.

To qualify for federal aid, students must complete the FAFSA. After gathering things you need to fill out the FAFSA, most individuals complete the form in less than one hour.

Recipients of federal financial aid must take steps to stay eligible. Students must reapply for federal aid each year.

Do Colleges Take Into Account Medical Expenses in Financial Aid Calculations?

According to the Federal Student Aid office, some colleges offer extra financial aid to students with high medical bills. After submitting the FAFSA, applicants should contact their school's financial aid department. They should provide documentation for medical expenses and insurance contributions.

Colleges may even consider major dental expenses when calculating financial aid. Donor contributions often allow schools to support students experiencing financial burdens.

How Long Does it Take to Hear Back from the FAFSA?

Students learn about their financial aid eligibility quickly. The Department of Education processes online applications in 3-5 days. Applicants who submit the FAFSA by mail typically receive a response in 7-10 days.

Applicants receive a Student Aid Report based on their FAFSA information. Review this information to ensure its accuracy. Your school will use this report to determine how much aid to provide.

Do You Have to Pay Back the FAFSA?

The federal government provides scholarships, grants, and loans. Scholarships and grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant, do not require repayment. However, recipients must repay subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Typically, payments begin six months after graduation unless the borrower withdraws from enrollment.

Some schools use the FAFSA information to determine work-study eligibility. The FAFSA information can also impact a student's eligibility for state financial aid.

What Can FAFSA Money Be Used For?

Recipients can use federal funds to pay for many education-related costs. Examples include tuition, books, fees, and supplies. Learners may also apply federal funds toward living expenses and transportation costs.

Although restrictions are flexible, students should only use federal funds, especially loans, on necessary items. Learners must repay federal loans with interest.

The FAFSA Requirements

What do I need to fill out the FAFSA? This section highlights the items students need to demonstrate eligibility for federal funding.

  • Demonstrate Financial Need

    The Federal Student Aid office uses FAFSA information to determine your cost of attendance and expected family contribution. The cost of attendance varies by school. If your expected family contribution does not meet your cost of attendance, you may qualify for aid.
  • Show Citizenship

    The FAFSA requirements include U.S. citizenship or status as an eligible noncitizen. Students with a green card or T-visa may qualify. Nationals, individuals with battered-immigrant status, and refugees may also apply.
  • Maintain Good Academic Standing

    Learners need good grades to maintain eligibility for financial aid. Individual schools determine satisfactory progress requirements. Students must also follow the institution's rules to remain in good academic standing. Before enrolling, learners should evaluate the prospective school's requirements to ensure they are attainable.
  • Provide Proof of Eligibility for Higher Education

    Applicants for federal aid must possess a high school diploma or plan to obtain one before their college studies begin. Individuals with a GED certificate or state-authorized high school equivalent certificate can also apply for federal aid. Applicants provide this information on the FAFSA form.

How to Fill Out the FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA is a relatively simple process. This section provides an overview of how to fill out the FAFSA.

  1. 1

    Create an FSA Account

    The Department of Education recommends that students create a Federal Student Aid account. Students create a username and password so they can sign the FAFSA electronically. Dependents must also create an account for their guardian. If neither you nor your guardian has a social security number, you must print a signature page at the end of the FAFSA form.
  2. 2

    Gather Necessary Documents

    Before beginning the form, locate all the things you need to fill out the FAFSA form. Applicants must provide their social security or alien registration number. Additional FAFSA requirements include federal income tax returns and W-2 forms. Some applicants may be able to use the built-in IRS Data Retrieval Tool to find this information. Students may also need to provide bank statements, investment records, and untaxed income records.
  3. 3

    Start a New FAFSA Form OR Renew a Previous Year's Form

    First-time applicants usually need an hour to complete the FAFSA. However, students renewing their application can use stored information. For this reason, learners typically need about 45 minutes to renew the FAFSA. Applicants can also save their work and return to the application later.
  4. 4

    Fill Out the Form and List Your Schools

    Applicants should list all schools they plan to apply to. FAFSA requirements include these institutions' Federal School Codes. The Federal Student Aid office provides a lookup tool to help applicants find these codes. The Federal Student Aid office sends the FAFSA results to the schools you list.
  5. 5

    Fill Out Your Financial Information or Your Parents

    Students should discuss their dependency status with their guardian. Dependents do not typically file their tax returns. While completing the FAFSA, dependents must provide their guardian's federal income tax return. Students who are not dependents can provide their federal income tax return.
  6. 6

    Sign and Submit the Form

    After completing the FAFSA, applicants should review the information one last time before signing. Learners who created an account can sign electronically. Those without an account must print a signature page. Applicants should receive their Student Aid Report by email and through the FAFSA portal in 3-5 days.

Documents Needed for the FAFSA

Locating the required documents can pose a challenge for federal aid applicants. The following list highlights materials to gather prior to beginning the FAFSA.

  • FSA Account Information

    First-time applicants must create a Federal Student Aid account number. To create an account, students provide their social security number. Applicants should record their account number. They will need it to renew their FAFSA information.
  • Social Security Number

    To prove citizenship, applicants enter their social security number. Students can find this number on their social security card. However, they do not need to provide a copy of their card. Eligible noncitizens can provide their alien registration number.
  • Driver's License (If Applicable)

    Applicants for federal aid must verify their identity. Students can do so by providing a government-issued ID number, such as their driver's license number. The Department of Education does not access your driving record.
  • Previous Tax Records

    The FAFSA requirements include tax information from the previous year. For example, for the 2021-22 FAFSA cycle, students provide federal income tax returns from 2019. The application specifies which year's taxes to submit. Dependents should submit their guardian's income tax returns.
  • Untaxed Income Records

    Applicants with untaxed income must provide records. Examples of untaxed income include workers' compensation and disability benefits. This income also includes the untaxed portion of money in health savings accounts. Welfare payments and untaxed social security benefits do not count as untaxed income.
  • Asset Records

    The FAFSA form requires information about assets such as investments and savings. Applicants must submit proof of these assets, such as bank statements. Applicants may also need to provide stock, bond, and mutual fund statements.
  • List of Schools to Send the FAFSA Information

    Applicants must list at least one school. However, students can list as many schools as they want. Applicants can also add schools even after submitting the form. Use the search tool to find the Federal School Code for each institution.
Portrait of Tessa Cooper

Tessa Cooper

Tessa Cooper is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to international and regional publications focused on education and lifestyle topics. She earned a bachelor's in public relations from Missouri State University and is passionate about helping learners avoid high student loan debt while pursuing their dream major. Tessa loves writing about travel and food topics and is always planning her next meal or vacation.

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