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Seven Tips for Filling Out the FAFSA

By Huntington Learning Center

Attention, parents: filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is definitely time well spent.

You can submit the FAFSA as early as October 1, 2021 for the 2022-2023 school year, so it’s time to start getting your materials in order. Here are seven tips for filling out the FAFSA:

  1. Apply early. We already mentioned that October is the soonest you can submit the FAFSA for the following school year, and it is worth doing so. Many states use the FAFSA to determine students’ state and non-federal student aid, and awards in many states are made until funds are depleted.
  2. Create an FSA ID. This username/password combination allows your student to sign the FAFSA form electronically and can be used to access the myStudentAid app, sign loan contracts, and access certain information online. It’s a good idea for both you and your student to get this before completing the FAFSA and use it to begin the FAFSA form.
  3. Gather everything you need ahead of time. The FAFSA application process will be much easier if your student collects all the materials they will need. This includes:
    • Social security number (parents and student)
    • Driver’s license number
    • W-2 forms from two years prior/any other records of income
    • The student’s and parents’ federal income tax return from two years’ prior (Form 1040 or foreign tax returns)
    • Records of any untaxed income from two years prior
    • Parents’ and students’ current bank statements
    • Parents’ current business and investment mortgage records
    • Documentation of U.S. citizenship or alien registration for non-citizens
  4. Read all directions carefully and avoid common mistakes. Yes, submitting the FAFSA early is wise, but don’t rush through it and make simple mistakes. The U.S. Department of Education says that many students incorrectly report the number of family members/household size, the amount of income tax paid (hint: this is not the same as adjusted gross income), whether they were in a legal guardianship, the applicant’s full name, the applicant’s social security number, and parent information. Pro tip: the FAFSA has an IRS Data Retrieval Tool that automatically transfers the necessary tax information into the FAFSA.
  5. Contact the college directly if financial circumstances have changed. Families whose financial situations have changed significantly from what is reflected on federal income tax returns from two years prior (what is used to complete the FAFSA) can have their financial aid adjusted through an appeals process with the school. Submit the FAFSA as normal, then contact the school financial aid office at the school your student plans to attend to discuss.
  6. List at least one college to receive your student’s information. The schools on your student’s list will use the FAFSA information to determine the types and amounts of aid your student will receive. Your student can list up to 10 colleges and universities online and add more later, and those schools will receive the FAFSA results automatically. Be sure to check the Federal Student Aid website to determine whether your student needs to list a college within your state in any particular position on the FAFSA to be considered for state aid.
  7. Get help if you need it. The Federal Student Aid website has an in-depth help section that answers common questions. Make sure to check it out as you and your student sit down to complete the FAFSA!

A final reminder: while grades and high SAT/ACT scores are not a factor in determining financial aid, every college has its own policy on the GPA that students must maintain to keep any federal or state aid awarded. It’s important for your student to maintain their grades and work hard in high school, as this sets the stage for college, too. If your student needs help achieving their best score on college entrance exams, call Huntington at 1-800 CAN LEARN.

For information about federal student aid and the FAFSA, visit https://fafsa.ed.gov. For a few FAQs about the FAFSA and application process, check out our blog, FAFSA FAQs for Parents of Teens.