How to Complete the FAFSA
To apply for most financial aid─including federal and state student grants, work-study, and loans─you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Although this financial aid form may seem complex, you’ll find many free resources to help you.
Where to Find the FAFSA
The FAFSA is available online at studentaid.gov. If you need a paper copy, download a PDF at https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa. You can also call 800-433-3243.
Complete the FAFSA online. Complete, submit, and update your application online. It’s the easiest way to fill out the FAFSA and apply for federal aid.
Before You Apply
Complete income tax returns. When completing your FAFSA, you and your family will be able to use your most recent completed tax returns. (For example, when completing your FAFSA early in fall 2022, you’ll use your 2021 tax returns.) On the FAFSA, you can transfer your income data directly from the IRS, making it easier to accurately complete the FAFSA.
Be sure to complete your FAFSA soon after it becomes available on Oct. 1. Filling out your FAFSA as early as possible can help you get a jump on other financial aid applications (state or institutional aid) that may have early deadlines. It also will give you more information earlier about the financial aid you qualify for and help you make an informed decision about which college is the best financial fit for you.
Create an FSA ID. Before you start your FAFSA, you’ll need to create a user ID and password. The FSA ID will be your login for all federal student aid websites. You’ll need to provide your own email address and password. (Parents will create their own account using a different email address and password). Set up your user ID and password before you start your FAFSA. Learn how to create an FSA ID.
Collect documents. See a list of the documents you need to get started.
Completing the Application
Use following tips to make it easier to complete the FAFSA.
Reminders and Resources
- Oct. 1 is the first day you can file the FAFSA. File as close to this date as possible. College, state, and private aid deadlines may be much earlier than federal deadlines. Pay attention to your colleges' priority financial aid deadlines. It’s a good idea to file your FAFSA as early as possible. That way you can get a jump on other financial aid applications (state or institutional aid) that might have earlier deadlines.
- Go to the free government website Completing the FAFSA. It has a detailed question-by-question guide to filling out the FAFSA.
- Get more free help at studentaid.gov.
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool
Save time and effort by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It will transfer your income tax data directly from the IRS to your FAFSA.
The FAFSA will ask you a series of questions to determine if you’re eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If you’re eligible and choose to do so, you’ll be transferred from the FAFSA to the IRS website, which will guide you through the transfer of your tax information. When you’re done, you’ll be sent back to your FAFSA. You don’t have to use this too, but it’s advisable to do so. If you have to complete the FAFSA using estimated income tax information, you can always return to the FAFSA at a later date to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool once you’ve filed your tax forms.
What Happens After You Apply
Once you submit the FAFSA, your family’s financial information will be processed, and your information will be shared with the colleges you listed on the form.
The Student Aid Report (SAR)
After your information is processed, you’ll receive a SAR that contains the data you entered on the FAFSA. If you entered an email address on the FAFSA, you’ll receive an email letting you know your SAR is ready to review on studentaid.gov. If you didn’t enter an email on the FAFSA, you’ll receive a SAR via postal mail. You can also find it online at studentaid.gov.
Review the SAR carefully for errors (the form highlights items that may need attention). Follow directions for making and submitting corrections. Submit corrections promptly so your colleges have the most up-to-date information.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
On the front page of the SAR, you'll find a figure called the expected family contribution (EFC). Your EFC is an indicator of your family’s financial strength. It’s sent to your state scholarship agency as well as to the colleges you listed on the FAFSA. They use this number to determine your financial aid award. Learn more about the EFC.
Other Financial Aid Forms
After you complete the FAFSA, make sure you submit any additional financial aid forms your colleges require. For example, some colleges require you to submit the CSS Profile or their own forms.
Help with the FAFSA
If you have questions about the FAFSA or federal financial aid for students in general, you can live chat, email, or call. Find contact information for the Federal Student Aid Information Center here.