Applying for college can feel overwhelming. After all, you’re searching for the right school, taking tests like the ACTs and SATs, filling out applications, and applying for financial aid. During this process, you might find yourself wondering how to pay for your college education.
Thankfully, with proper planning and the right resources, students can complete the college application process without losing too much stress or loss of sleep.
Today, we’re discussing one of the most common steps students take to apply for financial aid when applying for college and every subsequent year enrolled in higher education—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the FAFSA.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is one of the primary sources of financial aid for students and their families. It’s how students access financial assistance from both the federal and state governments. Some colleges and universities also use it to help determine a student’s financial need and need-based scholarship eligibility.
Financial aid obtained from the FAFSA, totaling $38 billion, comes through scholarships, grants, work-study eligibility and opportunity, federal student loans, and even merit scholarships.
All US citizens and permanent residents must fill it out yearly to apply for federal financial aid.
How to Apply for the FAFSA
Completing the FAFSA is crucial in getting the money needed for a student’s school. This is why knowing how to apply for and submit your FAFSA form properly is essential.
Step 1: Gather Information
The FAFSA will ask you to provide specific information about yourself and your family. In addition, the application will ask questions about a student’s demographic information, parent information, student and parent financial information, and school selections.
Students can speed up this process by ensuring all the necessary information and documents are ready.
Students should have the following ready:
- Social security numbers
- Federal income tax returns
- Family size and income
- Personal income (if any)
- List of colleges you’re applying to
Step 2: Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID
Once you have the information, you’ll need to know where to apply for the FAFSA. Students can access the free online application online.
First, you will create an FSA ID, a unique identifier that you’ll use to complete the FAFSA each year you’re in college. While applicants can complete the form quickly, it takes one to three days to confirm the account, so start the process several days in advance to ensure you meet all the deadlines.
Additionally, if you are a dependent student, one parent must create a separate FSA ID.
Step 3: Fill in Student Information
Once students have their FSA IDs, they can apply online for the FAFSA. First, choose the form you’d like to complete. This will likely be for the upcoming school year. Then, begin filling out the student demographic section.
Students can select up to ten colleges to send their FAFSA information to during this section. Students should list any college of interest at this time, regardless if they have applied or been accepted.
Step 4: Fill in Parent Information
After filling out the student section, students will enter information about their parents. Remember, you must complete this section even if you are not living with your parents or filing independently.
Step 5: Provide Financial Information
In this next step, students will enter their household’s financial information, including their personal and parental income.
If applying for FAFSA online, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically pulls the necessary information from your tax return.
Step 6: Double-Check Your FAFSA
The language on the FAFSA is formal and bureaucratic, so read each question carefully and double-check your answers before you hit submit.
Common mistakes include:
- Listing a parent or student-owner 529 college savings account as a student asset.
- Reporting retirement account balance (money in a 401(k), IRA, or Roth IRA.
- Not including the home equity value of your primary home.
Making corrections to your FAFSA after submitting it can be difficult and even delay your financial aid notification. So instead, save and proofread your information multiple times.
Step 7: Sign and Submit
Once you complete the entire form and ensure all the information is correct, you will electronically sign and submit the form.
If you submit online, the US Department of Education will process your application within three to five days. If you submit a paper application via mail, it is typically processed within seven to ten days.
Students have various options to help them pay for college, including scholarships, private and federal loans, and savings. The FAFSA is a free application that opens the doors to funding.
Make sure to submit early and well before the deadline—June 30th of each year—as most awards are first-come, first-served. Then, contact University of Bridgeport’s financial aid office, where our staff is ready to support you in applying for financial aid at University of Bridgeport and through the FAFSA. We are here to help!