Before you follow the steps to apply for the FAFSA, you must make sure you meet the following FAFSA qualifications:
- Citizenship: You must be a US citizen or an eligible non-citizen.
- Education: You must be a high school graduate or have a GED.
- Loan history: You must certify that you aren't in default on a federal loan or owe money on a federal grant.
- Use of money: You must certify that you will only be using your federal student aid for educational purposes.
When to Apply for FAFSA
One of the first things you need to do is decide when to apply for the FAFSA. It's best to apply for the FAFSA as soon as possible, since federal financial aid is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition, it's better to apply for the FAFSA before you apply for scholarships, since any scholarships you get before filing the FAFSA will count against the amount of student aid you get. You should also find out about federal, state, and college student aid deadlines.
You can look up state and federal deadlines using a form on the FAFSA website (see screenshot below). Each school has its own deadline, so you will have to call the financial aid office and ask what their student aid deadline is.
How to Fill out a FAFSA
- Decide how you want to apply. You have three options:
- Online (the recommended option per the FAFSA site) The online application takes 3-5 days to process. The FAFSA website edits your application, eliminating errors.
- The PDF FAFSA -- must be mailed.
- The Paper FAFSA, which can be obtained by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. It takes 7-10 days to process a paper FAFSA.
In some cases, you may be able to apply directly through the school you're applying to, so you may want to ask the school's financial aid administrator if they can help with your application.
- Apply for a Federal Student Aid PIN at the PIN website. This number serves as your identifier and personal signature. You can either create your own PIN or have one automatically generated. While you are not required to have a PIN, it is encouraged. If you do not use a pin, you will need to print out and mail a signature page within 14 days of submitting your FAFSA.
- Gather all the documents you will need in order to complete the application, including:
- Your social security card
- Your driver's license
- Your W-2 forms
- Your income tax return
- Records of student aid
- Current bank statements