The Early FAFSA Is Here!

How to Apply for Financial Aid in the New FAFSA Era

The “early” FAFSA is online beginning October 1, 2016 for the 2017-18 academic year. While some colleges are moving up their financial aid application deadlines, others are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Although the October 1 availability date and the prior-prior-year concept are definitely new, there is still a lot about the process itself that is quite similar to previous years. Whether this is your first or last time completing the FAFSA, here are the basic steps you will need to take:

  1. Check your deadlines: Look at the individual website for each college you are applying to and make sure that you know their exact financial aid application deadline. Some have moved them up to as early as the end of the year. Allow yourself about a week to ten days before that date, and set your personal FAFSA deadlines.
  2. Determine whether you are a dependent student: FSA has guidelines which help you determine whether you are a dependent or independent student. An independent student provides only his or her own financial information, while a dependent student provides the parents’ information as well.
  3. Get an FSA ID: This is your passport to online financial aid information and your electronic signature for the FAFSA. Get it now so you are one step ahead in the process. If a dependent student and a parent or parents are both providing FAFSA information, each will need a separate FSA ID.
  1. Complete your 2015 federal taxes: If you haven’t yet filed your 2015 federal income tax return yet, get that done as soon as possible. You will then be able to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically populate this information on your FAFSA, leaving one less thing to do yourself.
  2. Gather information: Make sure you have all your documentation in order before beginning so you won’t have to start and stop once your start the application.
  1. Get started: When you are ready to begin, visit https://fafsa.gov/ and click on the “Start a New FAFSA” button. Technically the student is the one who is completing the form, although in reality this job is usually completed by the parents. When it initially asks for name, address and financial information that is for the student. There is a separate section for the parents to provide their information.
  2. Enter the site: If you are the student, click on “Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID” on the left of the screen, enter your FSA ID username and password, and click “Next.” If you are the parent, click “Enter the student’s information” on the right of the screen, then provide the student’s name, Social Security number, and date of birth, and click “Next.”
  3. Create a Save Key: If the student and parents will share information, you will need to create a save key. This is a temporary password that allows you to “pass” the FAFSA back and forth. It also allows you to save the FAFSA and return to it later.
  4. Demographic Information: Enter the student’s personal information exactly as it appears on his or her Social Security card.
  5. Add colleges: You can ask to have your information sent to up to ten colleges. There is no charge from FSA for this, but you might have to pay a fee when you submit an actual application to each of your colleges. If you have more than ten schools on your list, you can go back and drop/add institutions at a later point. Just make sure those you are taking off the list have received your information. You might also have to go back and add them at a later point if any of your information changes.
  1. Parents: There are very specific guidelines as to which parent is required to provide financial information. You cannot just say that you live with one or the other, or grandparents, unless you meet these requirements.
  2. Sign and submit: Your application is not complete until it has been signed by the student and the parents. This can be done electronically using the FSA ID.