Applying for Financial Aid: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated: Jan 14



October 1st means the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is officially up and running! Well, kind of. They typically experience technical difficulties in the first several hours, so you may not be able to fill the form out quite yet. Keep checking the website and be sure to still do this as soon as possible (but it's okay to wait a few days for them to work out the kinks).

What you'll need:

Students-you'll need any W2/tax forms you have from last year (2019), social security number, Driver's License #, cash, savings and checking account balances, and your FAFSA ID

Parents- W2/tax forms from 2019, social security numbers, Driver's License #, cash, savings and checking account balances, and your FAFSA IDs; If you have any investments or untaxed income, you'll need to report that as well.


Note: For seniors who are graduating in the spring of 2021, you will be applying for FAFSA for the years 2021-2022.

What to do:

1. Students will start the process first. Go here: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa and click the "start here" button under "New to the FAFSA Process." You'll set up a username (FSA ID) and password, then you can begin to complete the form.


2. Parents can follow the same link, and click the "start here" button, after the student account has been made. You'll select "I am a parent, preparer, or student from a Freely Associated State" and you will link your account to your student's using their name, SSN, and date of birth. Only one parent will make an account.

****Be sure to write down or record in some way your FSA ID and Password!**** (it's a big pain if you wind up forgetting it, and is time intensive to get back into your account)

3. Create a save key. It's a temporary password that allows for parents and student to "pass" the FAFSA form back and forth. It also allows you to save the forms and return to them later.  Whichever parent creates the parent account, please share this key with your student because they'll need it for later steps.

4. FAFSA now uses something called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT), which automatically transfers your tax info to the FAFSA form. The tool will take you to the IRS website, where you'll provide your name and other information exactly as you provided on your tax return. Some info will be pre-populated from FAFSA. You'll then see a page that indicates whether or not your tax information is available (but for security and privacy protection, you won't be able to see your actual information). You can choose to import your info into the FAFSA form. Here's a simple graphic that shows each step.


5. Before you can submit the FAFSA forms, you'll need to sign and submit the application. Be sure to sign with your FSA ID so the forms can be processed as quickly as possible. Student, whichever parent creates the parent account will be required to sign your forms.  You should see a confirmation page, and receive a confirmation by email. There are a few differences in these two confirmations, so please PRINT or screenshot both of them! 

Things to Remember:

When completing the FAFSA, you'll have to list at least one school to receive your information. You can list up to 10 schools, and can add more later. Before submitting the FAFSA, it will be really important to list every school to which the student is applying, so finalizing that list by October is crucial! If the student winds up applying to more than 10 schools, once they receive the Student Aid Report (SAR), they can make the information available to more than 10 schools by completing one of the following options:

  • Click Login on the home page and log in to your FAFSA account. You'll be given an option to Make FAFSA Corrections. You can remove some of the colleges listed on the FAFSA and add the additional school codes, then submit the corrections for processing.

  • Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center and have them add colleges for you. When you call, you'll need to provide the DRN from your SAR or confirmation page. 

  • If you have a paper SAR, you can replace the colleges listed on the SAR with other colleges, and mail the SAR back to Federal Student Aid. The paper SAR allows you to change up to 4 colleges, not all 10.

The FAFSA form is the student's application, not the parent's. Every time the form says "you" or "your," it's referring to the student. Be sure to pay close attention if you're being asked for student or parent information. When in doubt, there's a banner on the left side that should indicate whether you’re on the student page (should be blue) or parent page (purple).

What Else Do I Need to be Aware of?

Now comes the CSS profile (which you may need for scholarships and some private schools)- Here is a list of participating schools.

  • You'll first go to cssprofile.org

  • It costs $25 to send to each college or scholarship (you'll only send it to the ones that require the form, so be sure to look at the participating school list above).

  • On the website, review the "Before You Apply" section for some helpful application resources. The CSS Profile Overview answers common questions.

  • Have your tax records and financial documents handy and enter the required info about you and your family.

Good luck (but I know you won't need it),

Jessica Chermak

Independent College Counselor

Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors

jessica@virtualcollegecounselors.com


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