How to get Free Money for College with FAFSA

Easily apply for scholarships and grants by submitting through FAFSA

What is FAFSA and how can it help me?

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is a federal program offered through the government. FAFSA is a form for Federal Student Aid that may be used by states, local governments, the federal governments, colleges, and many other organizations as a means of awarding financial aid. By submitting your form either online or by mail, you will be able to get access to specific grants, scholarships, and other work-student programs as well as federal student loans.

By completing the FAFSA form, you are taking the very crucial first step in making plans for college. Before we move any further, there are a few things you should look into prior to going out and borrowing a loan. You may want to consider the following.

  • How much can you truly afford to borrow
  • What options do I have to pay for college

To get a better idea of what you can qualify for, FAFSA is the number one place you should start. Did you know you can also apply for FAFSA every year that you are in college? This process generally only takes about 30 minutes to complete. If you are ready to take the first step to get free money towards college click the button below.


FAFSA APPLICATION
Important Dates to mark in your calendar


October 1, 2017
There is currently an open date for the 2018 – 2019 FAFSA Application.

FAFSA School Deadlines
Every state and college has different FAFSA deadlines for submissions.

June 30, 2019
The federal deadline for the 2018 – 2019 FAFSA application.

Pro Tip – you can use your tax information from 2016 – 2017 to complete the 2018-2019 FAFSA.
Steps to complete the FAFSA application
  • How to get your FSA ID
  • Gather the documents required in order to complete the FAFSA form
  • Selecting the appropriate family FAFSA information
  • How to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
  • Select all of the colleges where you want to start applying
How to get your FSA ID

One of the first steps to filling out the FAFSA is to create a Federal Student Aid ID.  By creating your own FSA ID, you will be able to gain access to the Federal Student Aid’s online system. This system will allow you to not only apply for aid but will also allow you to use your legal signature for applications. You will be able to use this ID over the next few years as you continue to apply for financial aid as well as a means of looking at student loans and repayment options after you graduate. In the event that you’re a dependent student, you will want to have either your parent or guardian make their own FSA ID.

This should be a quick process. Simply follow the on-screen instructions and you will be ready to complete the form in no time. Create your FSA ID here.

Gather the documents required in order to complete the FAFSA form

Getting the required documents ready before applying for FAFSA will save you both time and headaches. Here is a list of the items that you will likely need to have in order to complete the FAFSA form.

If you are a U.S. citizen and dependent student:

  • Your Social Security Card
  • Your driver’s license (if any)
  • Your 2017 W-2 forms
  • Your 2017 Federal Income Tax Return
  • Your 2017 untaxed income records
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your parents’ Federal Income Tax Return
  • Your parents’ 2017 W-2 forms
  • Your parents’ bank statements
  • Your parents’ untaxed income records
  • Your parents’ current business and investment records

If you are a U.S. citizen and independent student:

  • Your Social Security Card
  • Your driver’s license (if any)
  • Your 2017 W-2 forms
  • Your 2017 Federal Income Tax Return
  • Your 2017 untaxed income records
  • Your current bank statements

If you are not a U.S. citizen and dependent student:

  • Your driver’s license (if any)
  • Your 2017 W-2 forms
  • Your 2017 Federal Income Tax Return
  • Your 2017 untaxed income records
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your parents’ Federal Income Tax Return
  • Your parents’ 2017 W-2 forms
  • Your parents’ bank statements
  • Your parents’ untaxed income records
  • Your parents’ current business and investment records

If you are not a U.S. citizen and independent student:

  • Your driver’s license (if any)
  • Your 2017 W-2 forms
  • Your 2017 Federal Income Tax Return
  • Your 2017 untaxed income records
  • Your current bank statements
Selecting the appropriate family FAFSA information

One of the most important sections to fill out is the section involving your family circumstances. Below we will break down a few of the different options that you can choose from. We understand that each situation is completely different and there is no one size fits all solution for all family situations.

Family Structure (dependent students) For a full breakdown of what this status means, please head over to the FAFSA website.

Dependent Students:

  • My parents are married
    • In the event that your parents are married, you will want to submit their financial information to FAFSA for both of them. In the event that your parents refuse to submit FAFSA information or are not willing to pay for college, you will not be able to be considered an independent of your parents. You will also be required to submit their information in order to be considered for FAFSA. Another thing to note is that it is extremely rare to be granted a dependency override. In certain situations such as neglect, abuse, incarceration or other instances this may be granted.
  • My parents are divorced
    • Through FAFSA, divorced parents are treated differently than married parents. If you fall into this category, you will want to list the financial information for the person you have lived with for the majority of the last 12 months (1 year). This is typically referred to in the application as the “custodial parent”. In the event that your custodial parent is remarried as of the time you are ready to fill out your application, you will want to include the stepparent’s financial information also.
  • My parents were never married
    • Parents who were never married are treated very similarly to parents who are divorced. Again as noted previously, one of the parents is referred to as the “custodial parent”. This is the parent that will be listed on the FAFSA application. You also must have lived with this parent for the past 12 months.
    • Among this, if the custodial parent is receiving any type of compensation for assisted living such as child support or alimony, you will need to include this within the FAFSA application as a source of income.
    • Finally, in the event that your parents were never married but live together, you will need to put information regarding both parents on the application.
  • I live with a legal guardian or foster parents
    • For many nontraditional parents, you may find that FAFSA is a really challenging space to navigate. FAFSA does not consider legal guardians or foster parents as ‘parents’ in their system. Since this is the case you will not have to list any income or other financial information regarding them.
    • In the event that your legal guardian or foster parents did not legally adopt you, they will not be considered your parents according to FAFSA. If they did legally adopt you, FAFSA considered them your parents and you will need to include all of their financial information.
    • In very unique situations, you may be able to be considered an independent student. This would include but not be limited to the following:
      • Your parents are deceased
      • You have been emancipated
      • You were a ward of the court after the age of 13
    • FAFSA deems you as an independent student in the event that you live with either foster parents or legal guardians. You will want to include any support that you receive from your guardians as this will be considered when applying for FAFSA. You will generally find this information on the worksheet B when filling out the FAFSA application.
  • My parents are same-sex partners
    • In June of 2013, the Defense of Marriage Act, also commonly referred to as the (DOMA) was ruled unconstitutional in June 2013. With this ruling, this gave same-sex couples the opportunity to participate in federal government programs. As an example, this gave them access to programs like Medicaid, financial aid for college and more. Until that time, LGBT families were not previously recognized on the FAFSA application. Students during that time may have been required to fill out the application as divorced, and only listing the income of one of the parents. This was the same situation for parents who were same-sex partners. Up until recently, they were not recognized by the federal government. This has since changed. In the event that your parents are same-sex and married, you will list the contributions and income for both of your parents.
  • One of my parents has passed away
    • As we have stated previously, the FAFSA application can be challenging for people who are considered to be non-traditional families. One of these cases will be for deceased parents. In the event that you have a parent who has passed away and you are applying to some universities, they may require that you provide them with a death certificate or other proof that your parent is no longer alive. This application process may be emotionally difficult for students still grieving or going through the grieving process.
    • You will not need to report your deceased parent’s income when applying for FAFSA.

Family Structure (for independent students)

  • I am legally emancipated
    • As stated in other sections regarding parental status, for non-traditional families it may be a little harder to navigate FAFSA. In the event that you were emancipated as a minor per the court, you will not have to submit or include your parent’s financial information.
    • Any support received from other friends or relatives will need to be submitted on the application.
  • I have no contact with one or either of my parents
    • As we have highlighted throughout these notes, it can be very difficult for students who are in very non-traditional families. In the event that you are not able to find your legal guardians, or in cases where the legal guardian has been abusive, neglectful, absent, incarcerated or other cases, you will need to have a judge look over and grand a dependency. This can be requested by the universities and the judge must determine if you qualify for a dependency override.
    • In this case, you may need to fill out a dependency override. This generally consists of a pretty lengthy process that will vary depending on which university you are looking to attend. As a side note, most of these universities will require written evidence explaining the situation. You will need to provide evidence which can consist of the following; law enforcement documents, explanatory letters via counselors, clergy members, social workers, or other information that is relevant to showcasing your current circumstances.
  • I don’t know the whereabouts of both or either of my parents
    • Similar to the section “I have no contact with one or either of my parents”, the same rules apply. As stated initially, it will be more difficult for students who are in a non-traditional family as classified by FAFSA. In this case, you will also need to apply for a dependency override and you must provide evidence such as; law enforcement documents, explanatory letters via counselors, clergy members, social workers, or other information that is relevant to showcasing your current circumstances.
  • I have an abusive or neglectful parent(s)
    • Similar to the above two sections, you will have a more difficult time being classified through FAFSA as you fall under the non-traditional family. You will again need to apply for a dependency override. This lengthy process will vary depending on the universities that you are looking at applying at. With this in mind, you will need to provide evidence such as; law enforcement documents, explanatory letters via counselors, clergy members, social workers, or other information that is relevant to showcasing your current circumstances.
  • One or both of my legal guardians are incarcerated or institutionalized
    • As we have discussed previously, it may be more difficult to fill out your FAFSA form as you are considered a non-traditional family. With this in mind, you will need to apply for a dependency override. This is done differently across all of the schools so you will want to keep this in mind prior to applying. In general, each university has a different process so you will want to check with the university you are looking at attending to see if they require additional documentation outside the following: law enforcement documents, explanatory letters via counselors, clergy members, social workers, or other information that is relevant to showcasing your current circumstances.

Immigration Status:

  • Undocumented immigrant
    • In the case that you are an undocumented immigrant, you are unfortunately ineligible for federal funds. You may be able to get federal aid from your university, however. In some stated, you may be able to obtain in-state tuition, and in some cases, you may be able to qualify for some private scholarships. Some schools do offer aid aimed specifically for undocumented immigrants. A good example of this is Berkeley who offers up to $1 million in a scholarship fund towards undocumented immigrants.
    • One thing to note is that there is typically state restrictions. Some states have specific laws in place to qualify undocumented immigrants: Texas, California, New York, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Washington, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Maryland (only for community colleges) have state laws allowing undocumented immigrants who have attended 3+ years of high school in the state to qualify for in-state tuition. There are many additional states that offer similar perks, however, the best thing to do is ask your university to see if you qualify.
  • U.S Citizen, but my parents are undocumented immigrants
    • Per U.S. guidelines, all U.S. citizens are eligible for federal financial aid, regardless of your immediate parent’s immigration status. In the event that you are a citizen but your parents are undocumented immigrants, you will want to fill out the FAFSA application and include their financial information and data.
    • You will want to make sure that you use a real social security number otherwise your application will be rejected. Finally, in the event that your parent or legal guardian does not have a social security number, you should use the following number when filling out their application: 000-00-0000.
How to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

A great way to speed up the FAFSA application process is to use a tool created by the IRS that allows for you to move the previous year’s tax information into your FAFSA application. With this tool, you can retrieve all prior tax information (for the years of 2016 – 2017) and add it to your FAFSA application to avoid mistakes. In the application process you should see a section that requires financial information, once you are on that page you will want to click on the “Link to IRS” tab. This should prefill out all of the financial information pertaining to your previous year’s taxes.

Select all of the colleges where you want to start applying

When filling out the FAFSA form you will be asked to select up to 10 schools that you desire to go to. Each school through this program has a different code associated with it. Luckily, the team at FAFSA has set up a great tool that allows you to find the codes for your desired school. You can look up your school’s code here through the Federal Student Aid website. One thing to note is that if you are applying via the paper application, you are limited to just four total school codes.

Please note that if you did not decide where you wanted to apply by the October 1st deadline, you will want to make a list of all the schools you would like to apply to and submit those to FAFSA as quickly as possible. In the event that you change your mind or want to drop a school, you can easily update your profile within FAFSA to remove or add additional schools. Every school that you list as interested will receive all of your FAFSA information in regards to receiving financial aid.

I have submitted everything to FAFSA, what’s next
  • Go over your Student Aid Report to make sure everything alines
  • Obtain and review your FAFSA Student Aid Report
  • Verification process by some colleges
  • Check your FAFSA to see if corrections or updates need to be made
  • Look over your financial aid award package and make sure it looks good
  • In the event you feel you deserve more, appeal your award amount
  • Make sure to renew your FAFSA Application each year that you are attending college
Go over your Student Aid Report to make sure everything alines

Once you have completed your FAFSA application, you will want to find out if your state or any other colleges that you have applied to require additional forms. Some states and schools will require additional financial documents prior to receiving the financial aid. These forms can be in multiple facets but are commonly seen as one of the following: a College scholarship, grant application and in some cases other standardized forms such also referred to as a CSS / Financial Aid Profile. Outside of these, it is recommended that you check out if your state requires any additional financial information after submitting your FAFSA application.

Obtain and review your FAFSA Student Aid Report

At some point, after you have completed your FAFSA application you will receive what is called a Student Aid Report. This report is a summary of everything you submitted on your FAFSA. The report will either be emailed to you or be mailed to you through traditional snail mail. The general consensus in terms of a timeline is about three days to three weeks after you submit your application. If you are interested in viewing the report, you can log in to FAFSA.ED.GOV. While you are there, it is a good idea to check to see if you have made any mistakes and correct them. If you are the backend of the FAFSA website and it says that your profile is incomplete, you will need to follow the appropriate steps to correct the issues that you see.

Some key things to note in your report:

  • Generally, the report will show what is known as expected family contribution, also commonly referred to as EFC.
  • EFC refers to an estimate of what your family can typically afford when it is coming out of pocket for college.
  • Colleges use your EFC to help calculate what your need-based aid will be.
  • Please note – you may not get all of the need-based income you qualify due to some programs having limited funds.
  • Another note – what you do not get in need-based aid, you can get in non-need-based aid..
Verification process by some colleges

As a precaution and to get more information from you, some colleges may require or request additional information from you. In the event that you have been selected to go through this process, you will generally be contacted by the school’s financial aid office, or in some cases, you may see an indication on your financial Student Aid Report. Before you think you may have done something wrong being selected, don’t worry. Some schools do require that anyone who is applying to go to school at a particular university go through the process. In other cases, it may be completely randomized. In the event you are selected, you will be asked to submit documents to support what you claimed when you filled out your FAFSA application.

Check your FAFSA to see if corrections or updates need to be made

Once you have completed your FAFSA application, it is very important to go over it again to make sure that there are no mistakes. In the event that you do find a mistake, you will want to correct it as soon as possible to avoid any delays in approval. As we have talked about previously, you will want to stay on top of this form and make sure that if anything changes such as dependency status changes or you are choosing to add or delete a school, you update those changes right away. In the event that you did your FAFSA application online, you will want to login to your account and look for a section that states the following “Make FAFSA Corrections”.

Look over your financial aid award package and make sure it looks good

After you have received your college acceptance letters, you should shortly thereafter receive a financial aid award letter from each and every school that accepted you. Based on your financial situation among other factors, the award letters that you receive will vary in amounts from both a need-based point of aid as well as a non-need-based point of aid. These may vary depending on where you have applied and the location in which the school is, meaning colleges in California and New York may provide you with more income because the cost of living is higher. The aid itself will come in different amounts on both a state and federal aid level. In some cases, you may receive aid from the colleges themselves, although this is less common.

One thing to remember is that just because you qualify and are eligible for a specific type of student aid, it does not mean that you necessarily have to take it. As a general guideline, it is recommended that you try and take all the free money you can prior to taking out any student loans. In the event that you need to take our private student loans only take out what you need to. Finally, consider that just because you qualify for a high loan amount does not mean that you need to take out the full loan amount. It is crucial to only take out what is needed as you will have to pay these loans back at some point.

As a guideline, here are a few examples of financial aid options that you can acquire through FAFSA:

  • Student Loans: As you can imagine, there are quite a few different variations of student loans out there in the marketplace. These loans can be both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, but there are variations to each of these. These loans often come through as direct loans such as a Stafford Loan or PLUS Loans which are geared to parents or grad students. In some states, they also offer loan programs, however, it is generally always recommended to start with federal student loans before looking into any alternatives. The main reason behind this is due to the federal student loan benefits such as student loan forgiveness or income-based repayment.
  • Work – Study Program: At some colleges across the nation you may be able to do what is called a work-study program. This program allows people with a financial need the ability to get a job on or around campus that allows them to help cover some of the costs of school. This can be great for students who don’t want to have to take out additional student loans and are not opposed to working while in school. Prior to accepting the job, it is important to make sure that the job qualifies according to your school’s guidelines. Once it has been approved you will be able to start earning money towards your tuition and school expenses.
  • Grants and Scholarships: One of the best things to look into prior to going to college is grants and scholarships. There are generally multiple types of grants and scholarships out there. One of the most common that you have probably heard about is the Pell Grant. This grant is geared towards undergraduate students who have some form of financial need. Some states also offer government-run programs that offer financial aid to students as well. For example, both California and New York have financial aid programs that help to assist students. To see what grants are available in your stage you can head, head over fo the NASFAA website. You may also be able to see state and regional college tuition discounts through NASFAA. Finally, it is important to realize that the federal government does not offer any type of scholarship, but through FAFSA colleges are able to award money. The good thing about this is that many private scholarship funds do require applicants to have submitted to FAFSA in order to be qualified with them.
In the event you feel you deserve more, appeal your award amount

In some cases, FAFSA will not take into account changes within your finances. This can happen from time to time so it is very important to take a look at what you were awarded to see if you may qualify for more. As an example, let’s say one of your parents lose their job and become unemployed or someone from your immediate family is dealing with major health issues and their medical bills are mounting. Those significant hits to your financials and should be considered as such. If this has happened to you, you do have the option to apply for an appeal through the financial aid office for the school you applied to. In the event that you do appeal, there are a few things to consider. First, you may not get any more money even though you provide financial evidence of hardship or other financial strains. Second, the appeal process is generally not a fast process, so you may find yourself waiting for quite a while in some cases. Lastly, it is definitely worth giving it a shot, especially if your financial situation has changed right before or during the review process for FAFSA.

Make sure to renew your FAFSA Application each year that you are attending college

As a reminder, you will need to go into FAFSA and submit for it each and every year that you are in school in order to be able to receive financial aid. The good thing here is that once you have filled it out once, you can simply fill out a renewal request each year thereafter. Once you have made it to the renewal process, you will be asked to fill out some questions in regards to some of the past forms that you have filled out. Finally, before you submit everything, make sure that you update everything prior to applying. As a pro tip, in the event that your financial situation has changed very drastically, you may / will want to consider reapplying altogether.

Common FAFSA FAQs
  • How do I know if I qualify for financial aid?
  • There is no way that FAFSA is really free is there?
  • I have heard from some friends that FAFSA recently had some changes. What has changed?
How do I know if I qualify for financial aid?

Every single student in the United States is eligible to apply for FAFSA. The one thing to note here is that not everyone is going to qualify or receive financial aid. None the less you should still apply to see if you will be able to get any additional assistance towards your schooling. If you are interested to get a ball park number of what you may be able to qualify for, you can head over to FAFSA4Caster. Please remember that these are just estimates and may not be the actual amount that you qualify for.

Another important thing to remember is that each person’s financial situation and eligibility will be different. For example, students who are trying to qualify for a grant or scholarship may not meet the qualifications as these types of financial awards are generally merit-based. In the event that you need additional funding outside of what you receive from FAFSA, you can always look into private student loans or federal student loans through the government.

There is no way that FAFSA is really free is there?

Absolutely. FAFSA is absolutely 100% free. There are no fees associated with FAFSA. Simply fill out your application and you will be qualified for student loan aid. The application is free and can save you money from having to taking out federal student loans.

I have heard from some friends that FAFSA recently had some changes. What has changed?

Over the last year or so, the Department of Education has decided to start allowing applications to FAFSA to start earlier. This means you are now going to be able to start applying at the beginning of October. You use to have to wait until January to apply for FAFSA. As of today, you can start applying for FAFSA for the school year of 2018 – 2019 starting on October 1st, 2017.

Another big change that happened recently was in relation to the tax information that is supplied regarding your FAFSA application. When you are applying, it is now recommended that you use the prior-prior year’s tax information in order to complete FAFSA. This means that at this time you will want to use your tax information from 2016 in order to complete all the forms for 2018 – 2019 forms.

Need help with FAFSA? We got you covered


Get in Contact with FAFSA


Other Helpful Resources to Consider

  • A company called Form Your Future works with states and local communities to help host FAFSA completion events all across the country. Check out the link to find out if there is an upcoming event near you.
  • Another great resource that you can use to help estimate your college costs is the Educational Credit Management Corporation. You can use their handy tool to help give you a better idea of the true costs of going to college and what you should expect.
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