When gearing up for college, one form is mentioned over and over: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Basically, the government uses the FAFSA to calculate just how much a particular applicant’s family can be expected to contribute to his or her college costs. Therefore, it directly affects how much financial aid the government is willing to offer.
Before filling it out, remember that the FAFSA is the student’s application, not the parents’. Parents often complete this form for their child, but they can run into trouble when questions read “you” or “your,” which refer to the applicant, not necessarily whoever is filling out the form.
First, you’ll have to determine whether you are considered a “dependent student.” This can still apply under certain circumstances, even if you are living elsewhere and file your own taxes. If this is the case, you’ll need to provide an ID for both yourself and your guardian. The U.S. Department of Education provides a guide on its website to help determine if you are a dependent student.
Another factor to consider is when you will attend college. If it is between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, you will need to fill out the 2017-18 version of the FAFSA. If it is between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, you should fill out the 2018-19 version. If you will be attending during both time periods, the Department of Education recommends filling out the 2017-18 form first, waiting for it to be processed in the next few days, then going back and filling out the 2018-19 form. Alternatively, if the school session spans the two time periods, you should contact your college’s financial aid office and ask which to fill out.
Student and parent information
Unsurprisingly, your personal information is essential. This information includes your Social Security number, driver’s license number, Alien Registration number (if applicable), tax and income information and a list of all of the schools to which you are applying. For the 2017-18 form, the FAFSA will ask for 2015 tax information; for the 2018-19 form, it asks for 2016 tax information.
If you are a “dependent” student, you will also need to include your parents’ information, including Social Security numbers and income and tax information. The Department of Education also provides a guide for determining who, exactly, is your legal “parent.”
There are both federal and state deadlines for FAFSA applications. While the state deadlines vary, the Department of Education offers an easy tool to research specific states. The federal deadline for the 2017-18 FAFSA is midnight Central Time on June 30, 2018, with corrections and updates accepted until Sept. 15. For the 2018-19 FAFSA, the first deadline is also June 30, with the correction deadline being Sept. 14.
Certain colleges also have FAFSA application deadlines, so the Department of Education says to contact prospective schools for that information, as well as if the college’s deadline applies to when it receives the FAFSA from the government or when it is processed.
Above all, if a problem emerges, there are a number of guides offered by the U.S. Department of Education. Armed with the above knowledge, you will be ready to tackle your FAFSA application.