FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA must be completed by every financial aid applicant no matter where you are applying. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal and state student grants, work-study, loans, and, for some schools, institutional financial aid.

Where to Find the FAFSA

Although the FAFSA come in two forms, both electronic and paper, it is strongly advised that you fill out the electronic version. The online program checks your data before it is transmitted to the processing center, so there’s less chance of making an error if you fill out the electronic version. In addition, filing the FAFSA online can reduce processing time by one to two weeks. You may, however, want to fill out the paper version before you fill out the electronic version so you know what to expect. The electronic version is available online at http://fafsa.ed.gov. If you need a paper copy, call 800-4-FED-AID (433-3243).

Documents You’ll Need Before You Apply

  • Your Social Security card
  • Your driver’s license (if any)
  • Your 2011 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
  • Your (and your spouse’s, if you are married) 2010 Federal Income Tax Return
    • IRS 1040, 1040A, 1040 EZ
    • Foreign Tax Return, or
    • Tax Return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Island, the Federal State of Micronesia, or Palau
  • Your parent’s/parents’ 2010 Federal Income Tax Return(s) (if you are a dependent student)
  • Your 2011 untaxed income records
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farms records, and/or stock, bond and other investment records
  • Your alien registration or permanent resident card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
To organize your information, you can print and complete a FAFSA on the Web Worksheet before you begin entering your information online.
Get a PIN
Obtain a U.S. Department of Education personal identification number (PIN) by filling out the brief application at www.pin.ed.gov. You can get your PIN immediately by e-mail (recommended) or have it mailed to you. You can still use FAFSA on the Web without a PIN; you just have to print out and mail in a signature page (not recommended).
Completing the Application

Reminders and resources:

  • January 1st is the first day you can file the FAFSA. You should try to file as close to this date as possible; college, state, and private aid deadlines may be much earlier than federal deadlines. You should pay attention to your colleges’ priority financial aid deadlines.
  • Attend a FAFSA Night with the College Guide in January or February to learn more about the FAFSA and begin or continue your application (dates to follow).
  • Many colleges also require you to submit additional financial aid forms, such as the CSS/FInancial Aid PROFILE or their own forms. Be sure you know which of your schools require what to successfully apply for financial aid.
The Student Aid Report (SAR)
After filling out and submitting your FAFSA, your family’s financial information is analyzed using the federal need formula. You will then be issued a copy of your SAR by the Department of Education, a form that contains all the data you entered on the FAFSA. Review the SAR carefully for errors (the form highlights items that may need attention) and follow directions for making and submitting corrections. Submit corrections promptly to avoid long delays in processing your application. Make sure to keep a copy of the SAR for your records.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

At the upper right of the front page of the SAR, you’ll find a figure called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is a preliminary estimate of the amount your family can contribute to college costs. The EFC is sent electronically to your state scholarship agency, as well as to the colleges you listed on the FAFSA. State agencies and colleges use the EFC to determine the size of your aid award. If you see an asterisk next to your EFC figure, it means that your application has been randomly selected for verification. Your colleges will request copies of signed tax returns or other information to verify the information reported on the FAFSA. Be sure to furnish this information at soon as possible after you receive the request.

Help With the FAFSA

If you have questions about the application, FAFSA on the Web, or federal student financial aid in general, call:

Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC)
800-4-FED-AID (433-3243) / TTY 800-730-8913
Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight Eastern Time
Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time

Helpful Links

Completing the FAFSA
Federal Student Aid


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