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How to Complete the FAFSA

Last updated February 15, 2024

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2024-2025 academic year is now open! If you need $$$ for college, completing the FAFSA is the most important, reliable way to get it. Here's everything you need to know to complete the FAFSA!

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Create Your StudentAid.gov Account

Before you get started, you and your contributors will need to create StudentAid.gov accounts (FSA IDs) to access the application. A contributor is anyone who is required to provide information on the FAFSA. Contributors are:

  • Student (that’s you)
  • Parent(s)/Step parent(s)
  • Spouse 

You and your contributors can create your StudentAid.gov accounts in advance of completing the FAFSA. This allows time (1-3 days) for them to be authenticated, so that when you complete the FAFSA, all of your personal information will automatically appear on the form. We strongly recommend you create your StudentAid.gov accounts ahead of time. This can save you and your contributors a considerable amount of time and hassle.

To create your StudentAid.gov account, you will need your social security number, a reliable phone number, and your email address. You will not be able to complete the FAFSA without a StudentAid.gov account. Make sure you double check for correct spelling and any unnecessary characters if you are having trouble creating an account. Names on Social Security Cards should match the information listed on the FAFSA. 

Creating a StudentAid.gov account will require you and your contributors to set up at least one form of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), which is another layer of security to keep your information safe. You can set this up using a phone number, email, authentication app, or a one-time backup code (keep safe). 

Creating StudentAid.gov Accounts for Contributors

If you’re a dependent student (you live with your parents and rely on them for financial support such as food and housing), one or both of your parents will need to create their own StudentAid.gov accounts. Keep in mind that your parent(s) will need their own email address. You can create a free one using Gmail or Yahoo. After your and your contributors' StudentAid.gov accounts are created, you can begin filling out your FAFSA.

How do I know if I am dependent/independent for FAFSA purposes?

Most students will file the FAFSA as a dependent student, even if they have filed their taxes or support themselves. FAFSA only considers a student independent for the following reasons:

  • 24 years old during award year
  • Married (or separated, not divorced)
  • Working on advanced degree
  • Serving in Armed forces or veteran
  • Since age 13– not living with parent, in foster care, or ward of court
  • Emancipated minor
  • Have court-ordered legal guardian
  • Have children or dependents and provide more than half of their support
  • Unaccompanied youth who is homeless

What do l need to fill out the FAFSA?

Here’s what you need to complete your FAFSA if you’re a dependent student:

  • Your StudentAid.gov account (FSA ID).
  • Your social security number.
  • Your parents’ social security numbers.
  • USCIS registration number for eligible non-citizens (if applicable).
  • Federal tax information, tax documents, or tax returns including IRS W-2 information for you and your parents.
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student.
  • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you and your parents.
  • A list of colleges you intend to apply to (if you’re completing the FAFSA for the first time). You do not have to be accepted to any of these colleges at the time you complete your FAFSA. You can list up to 20 colleges on your FAFSA. 

For most families and students, completing the FAFSA takes around one hour. 

How do I get started?

To begin filling out your FAFSA, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Click “I am a student and want to access the FAFSA form.” You will be asked for your login credentials (StudentAid.gov account) and can follow the instructions on the form.

Source: studentaid.gov

Steps to completing the FAFSA

  • Step 1: Create your StudentAid.gov account. 
  • Step 2: Log into the FAFSA using your StudentAid.gov account and complete your portion of the application. Dependent students will add their contributor’s information in this section. 
    • *Provisionally independent students do not need to invite contributors and will complete after their section. 
  • Step 3: Contributors access their portion of the FAFSA by using their StudentAid.gov account. If your parents are married and filed taxes jointly, only one parent will need to do this part. If your parents did not file taxes jointly, they will both need to complete it.
  • Step 4: Once your final contributor completes their portion of the FAFSA, they can sign and submit the application. You will receive a confirmation email letting you know that your application has been successfully submitted. 

When can I start filling out my FAFSA?

The 2024-2025 FAFSA is open! We recommend completing it as soon as possible to maximize the aid you are eligible for. Don't wait! 

Make sure to double-check the dates before you start filling out the form. You want the FAFSA labeled with the school year for which you need aid (not the current academic year). Pay close attention to school and state FAFSA deadlines. 

What’s the deadline to complete my FAFSA?

FAFSA deadlines vary by state and college. Learn what your deadline is here, and be sure to apply well before it. The federal FAFSA deadline is June 30th, annually.

a closeup of someone working on their laptop - How to Complete the FAFSA

My parent(s) are undocumented, but I am a citizen/resident. Can I still fill out the FAFSA and receive financial aid?

Yes! If you’re a dependent student living with parents who are undocumented, you can still fill out the FAFSA using your social security number. Your parents’ citizenship status does not affect your eligibility for federal aid. Parent(s) without a SSN can still make a StudentAid.gov account. They will need to complete a knowledge-based identity verification. This process currently is not working and has been unresolved by Federal Student Aid. Please be patient and information will be updated here once it is fixed. 

I am undocumented. Can I complete the FAFSA?

Unfortunately, the FAFSA is only available to those with permanent residence or citizenship in the U.S. If you are not in a position to complete the FAFSA due to immigration/citizenship status, many states may have their own state-based aid application that you can complete instead. Check with your school counselor to see what options there are in your state. 

The FAFSA is not the end-all-be-all of paying for college. Read our guide on financial aid for undocumented students to learn more about your financial aid options for college. You can also text us (send #FAFSA to 33-55-77) and we can walk you through alternatives to the FAFSA and where to find financial aid!

Do you have to pay to complete the FAFSA?

No! You should never pay to fill out the FAFSA. Be sure you are on studentaid.gov at all times throughout the FAFSA completion process and be wary of filling out any forms or documents that don’t look official. We recommend completing the FAFSA alongside a parent or trusted adult to ensure the process goes smoothly and safely.

What happens after I complete the FAFSA?

It’s important to note that FSA will not receive your FAFSA Submission Summary until mid-March. If you submit your FAFSA before then, you will receive email confirmation that it was submitted successfully, but not your FAFSA Submission Summary. Until you receive your FAFSA Submission Summary, you will also not be able to make any updates or corrections to your FAFSA. Keep this in mind when completing your FAFSA to ensure you’re submitting the most accurate, most complete version of the form.

We made a chart to help you understand what happens after you submit your FAFSA. Save it or screenshot it to have handy later!

Where can I get FAFSA Help?

Check out our list of FAFSA help by state, which breaks down what kinds of free virtual and in-person resources are available to students completing the FAFSA in your state.

Have more questions about the FAFSA?

Text #FAFSA to 33-55-77 and we'll walk you through every step of filing your FAFSA. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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