Most students today will have to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out this federal financial aid form will determine whether you are eligible for governmental grants, such as Pell grants and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. These are need-based programs that provide college funding to lower-income students, and any financial aid you qualify for through these grants does not have to be paid back once you graduate from college or university.

Filing out FAFSA will also determine how much money you can qualify for in federal student loans and how much you and your family will be expected to pay, either out of pocket or through private lenders, such as Citibank or Sallie Mae.

While you may need to fill out independent applications for these supplemental loans, as well as other grants and scholarships, most of the information is the same as the information you’ll need to fill out FAFSA. So, if you have everything together and organized to prepare your financial aid documents with the government, you should have everything you need for any private loans, grants, or scholarships, as well.

Gather the Necessary Information to Apply for Financial Aid for College

To complete your FAFSA form, start by gathering all of the applicable documents and information in this list:

  • Your Social Security number (or your Alien Registration Number if you aren’t a citizen of the United States).
  • If you have one, your driver’s license or state-issued ID number.
  • Any records of investments, including bank statements (if applicable).
  • Any records of untaxed income (if applicable).
  • The most recent year’s W-2s, tax returns, and/or any other records of money that you’ve earned within the past year. FAFSA has an IRS Data Retrieval Tool that makes this step much easier for many students.
  • Your Federal Student Aid PIN, which can be retrieved at pin.ed.gov.

If your parents, or anyone else, can claim you as a dependent, you will also need to gather this information (with the exception of a Federal Student Aid PIN) for them, as well. Once you have all of this information, you can start filling out the form online.

Filling Out Your Financial Aid Applications for the First Time?

If you have never filled out FAFSA before, you’ll need to go to www.FAFSA.gov and select “Start a New FAFSA.” According to the Office of the US Department of Education, you should keep a few details in mind, including:

  • Make sure that your name and social security are consistent and matching throughout the application. If they do not match or if there are any discrepancies, you will not be able to continue applying for financial aid.
  • You’ll create a password when you begin your application. This is not the same as your Federal Student Aid PIN. Keep this handy so that you can leave your application and come back to finish it later without starting over entirely.
  • Remember that some deadlines may differ for different colleges and universities, especially if you are applying for a summer session. Check with your school’s financial aid office to ensure that you are on track to finish and submit your application before the deadline.

You will need to renew your FAFSA each year, but fortunately FAFSA.gov keeps your information securely saved, and you won’t need to fill out all of your information over and over again, each year. Instead, when it comes time to renew, you’ll just go to the FAFSA website, log in, and select, “FAFSA Renewal.” It will then walk you through the simple steps to renew your application to receive the next year’s financial aid.

Listing Your Colleges and Universities

When you fill out your FAFSA, you’ll be prompted to enter at least one college or university to receive your personal and tax information. This is required to help determine how much and what kind of aid you are eligible to receive. It doesn’t matter if you have not selected which school you’ll attend, as this does not represent an obligation to attend any one school in particular, and the order of the schools does not matter.

If you’re submitting your FAFSA online, you can list up to 10 schools to receive your financial aid information and consider you for aid. If, for any reason, you do not want one school to see that you are applying to another, you can list only a single school in your application, submit it, wait 2-3 days until the submission has cleared. Then just return to the form, delete the first school, and replace its information with that of the second school.

If You Haven’t Done Your Taxes Yet

If you are filling out your financial aid application before you’ve filed your taxes for the year, the Department of Education has indicated that you may estimate this information. If nothing major has changed in the last year, it’s a good idea to base this estimate on the previous year’s tax information. You can click on the “Income Estimator” tool to assist you with this if you need to.

If you are not applying for summer session, you should have no problem meeting the deadline for FAFSA after you do your taxes, though, and this can make the whole process a lot faster, easier, and more efficient.

Transferring Your Taxes Through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)

If it has been at least 2 weeks since you electronically filed your taxes or eight weeks if you filed your taxes through the mail, select “IRS DRT”. This will take you to the IRS’ website, where you can preview your information and agree to have it transferred to your FAFSA. Your tax information will then be automatically marked as “Transferred from IRS,” and you won’t have to worry about that anymore.

Other Financial Aid Applications

Unless you are applying for a private grant, loan, or scholarship, you will most likely not have to fill out any other very involved financial aid applications. Most institutions will use your FAFSA to determine your financial need. Beware of unverified scholarships, grants, or other funding opportunities that require you to enter credit card information or other personal information, as this is unfortunately a fairly common identity theft scam.

However, if you do need to fill out other financial aid documents, in addition to FAFSA, once you’ve gathered this information once, you won’t have to do it again. Just keep everything together and organized so the process is much easier for you.

Search and Apply for Scholarships on ScholarshipChart.com

ScholarshipChart.com helps students and parents search and apply for scholarships, grants, awards and other financial aid options to help pay for college. Whether you are a high school senior starting college or a single mom going back to school, you can find money for college through ScholarshipChart.com.