Last year, Alabama high school graduates missed out on $57.5 million in federal aid dollars. Less than 50% of eligible Alabama students filled out the Free Application for Federal Aid last year, but nine out of 10 students who do go to college.
The FAFSA isn’t short, but experts say it is worth it. Here’s a guide to filling out the FAFSA:
- Go to the right website! Never ever ever pay to fill out the FAFSA form. If it doesn’t end in “.gov," don’t go. Here’s the accurate link to fill out your federal aid application. (There’s also a phone app.) When you click the link, you’ll see two options: Start Here or Log in. If you’ve already got an account skip to step three. If you are new to all this, proceed to step two!
- Create an account and get your FSA ID. An FSA ID lets you access federal government websites and accounts for loans, the FAFSA application and more. Students and guardians will have different FSA IDs, so make sure you’re both going through the process. Here’s the link to get your account. Students, if this is your first time filling out the FAFSA or getting an ID, you’ll be able to use it immediately. If you’re getting a new ID because you’ve previously had one, you’ll need to wait a couple of days for the verification process. Guardians, if your student is your dependent, you’ll have to get an ID of your own in order to sign their form online. Don’t ever share these IDs with anyone, and don’t get them mixed up!
- Get everything ready for the form. Here’s what you need: Student’s social security number; driver’s license number if you have one; your Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen; your federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information; records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits; information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate. This is a lot, we know, but don’t lose patience just yet. There are resources here if you need help! Guardians, all of the same information will be needed if your student is a dependent. This includes spouses.
- Start the flippin’ application, people! You made it here. Let’s dig in, y’all. Stay with me. Students, fill in the bubble to the left after you click “Start Here” on the front page of this site and enter your new/current FSA ID. Select which FAFSA form you’d like to complete. Complete 2019-20 FAFSA form if you will be attending college between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020. Complete 2020–21 FAFSA form if you will be attending college between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021. If you need to complete both, go ahead and do the 2019-20 form, wait through processing for a day and go back for the second form. If you are given the option to renew your form, do that. This’ll carry information over from the last time you filled out your FAFSA. Create a save key. This “key” is meant to be shared with your guardians. It allows you to “pass” the form back and forth from parent to student. Parents, I didn’t forget about you. When you arrive to the front page of the FAFSA site, you’ll fill in the bubble to the right. Use your FSA ID we made in the second step. You’ll follow the same steps as your student. Remember, if it says, “you” or “your,” the application wants your student’s information. If you have a question, the banner on the left side will indicate whether you’re on a student (blue) page or parent(purple) page.
- Fill out student demographics. This is pretty easy, so take a breath! The application wants your full name, birth date, social security number and more. Make sure you’re using the name on your social security card. No nicknames, ya hear? If you do not have a social security number, but you are an eligible non-citizen, you will enter your Alien Registration Number. If you are a resident of the Freely Associated States and this is your first application, enter “666” as your first three digits. The federal processor will assign the remaining six digits when your FAFSA application is processed. Here’s the rest of the demographic information you’ll need: permanent mailing address, state of legal residence, phone number, email address (choose an active one, y’all), driver’s license number if you have one and marital status. Be sure you’re putting student information where student information belongs and the same with parent information.
- Filling out the eligibility questions. Most of these questions are to figure out when you’ll be attending college, when you graduate from high school and other timing elements. There is one big question you don’t want to skip over! Are you interested in work-study? Answering yes to this question gives you the opportunity to obtain a job that’ll put money toward your education. And you won’t be obligated to take the job if you are offered one. Federal aid experts recommend checking yes, so you’ll have a decision if you’re offered the opportunity.
- Listing schools you want to receive your information. List every single college or university you are interested in even if you have not applied or been accepted. If you end up not attending one of the universities on your list, the school will ignore your FAFSA. You can remove schools later if you need the room. If you want to include more than 10 schools, here’s how you’ll do that. And, no, universities will not be able to see where else you applied. In Alabama, it doesn’t matter which order you list the schools you’re interested in.
- Answering dependency questions. The questions will vary based on whether the application is for 2019-20 or 2020-21. You may still be considered a dependent even if you live on your own, support yourself, and file taxes on your own. If you’re considered a dependent, you’ll need to provide information on your parents. If you are determined to be considered an independent you won’t have to provide parent or information in the next step.
- Fill out parent information if you’re a dependent. Students, to be considered a dependent you’ll need to fill out this section even if you don’t live with your parents. This section is one of those that’ll you’ll be happy to use the temporary key mentioned above. Parents can fill out their parts and students will take back over. If you need help figuring out who is considered your “parent," click here. If your parents aren’t willing to help out or provide their information for the FAFSA, click here.
- Almost there. Financial information now! This step can be super easy with the help of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. “The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be unavailable Sunday, Oct. 6, from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Eastern time. During this time, students can still complete and submit a FAFSA form by entering the necessary tax return information manually,” according to the website. If you’re filling out the financial information by hand, the 2020–21 FAFSA form will ask for 2018 tax information. If you’re filling out the 2019–20 FAFSA form, you’ll need your 2017 tax information. Important: If your financial situation has changed drastically since taxes were filed, go through all the steps and then contact the school of your choice to discuss your personal situation with the financial aid offices. Some universities will assist you in moving forward.
- Sign, sealed, let’s get this delivered! The quickest way to sign and send off your FAFSA is by using your FSA ID we made at the very start. Your parents, if you are a dependent, will need to sign in with their FSA IDA, as well. Do not mix up the IDs. That’s one of the most common mistakes made. You have the option to print, sign and mail in your signatures. This will take longer, though. Once you see the confirmation page, you know you’ve made it! Congrats!