When I filled out my first Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), it was only done with a pen and paper. Over the years, the FAFSA has gotten simpler and can now be done electronically. Renewing your FAFSA is even easier and can be a painless process with a little preparation.
Step 1: Know Your Deadlines
Every year students lose out on financial aid because they don’t pay attention to deadlines. The FAFSA is used to determine financial aid for the school year beginning July 1 and ending June 30. The federal deadline for filling out a FAFSA on the web for the 2010 -2011 school year is June 30, 2011.
States have different deadlines, though. States usually want the FAFSA filled out earlier in order for them to figure out how much state financial aid you are eligible for. I learned this the hard way my first year at college. California’s deadline for initial awards is March 2. Check the list of state deadlines to see when you need to submit yours.
Step 2: Get It Together
There are several documents you need to have in front of you before you fill out a FAFSA. The Department of Education has a suggested checklist, which includes W-2 Forms, last year’s tax returns (including those of your spouse and parents, if applicable), bank statements, and driver’s license.
Step 3: Fill It Out Online
Paper applications are available for those that need them, but the preferred method of submitting a FAFSA is online. There are several other sites on the web that have FAFSA in their address or description. The only site for filling out your FAFSA is www.fafsa.ed.gov. Once you get here you will want to follow these steps:
You want to click on “Fill out your FAFSA.” Choose the correct school year that you are applying for aid and click “Next.” The next screen shows the browser requirements. Check to make sure your computer has everything they request and click “Next.”
Enter your Social Security Number, name, and birth date. Be sure to create a password that is 4 to 8 characters in length. It can be any combination of numbers and letters and is case sensitive.
The system will then let you know that they have a FAFSA on file for you from last year and prompt you to enter your Federal Aid Pin. Enter the pin and click “Next.” If you forgot your pin, then you can request a duplicate pin.
The next screen will give you additional information on using a “pre-filled FAFSA.” Read these as needed and proceed to the next screen. You will then be led through a series of sections, starting with “Student Demographics” and ending with “Financial Information.” Make sure you review all the pre-filled information on all the screens and input new information where it is requested.
Filling out the school section is very important. Make sure you find the right School Code for your college, so that they receive your financial aid information in time for any deadlines. If you need help filling out the form, check out the “Helpful Hints” section on the right side of the screen. It gives details on the information needed for each field. Finally, you will digitally “sign” the FAFSA and submit the application.
“Before Beginning A FAFSA: Application Deadlines,” United States Department of Education
“Before Beginning A FAFSA: Browser Requirements,” United States Department of Education
“Before Beginning A FAFSA: Documents Needed.” United States Department of Education
“Before Beginning A FAFSA: Pin Information,” United States Department of Education
“Pin Request and Information,” United States Department of Education