How to Fill Out the FAFSA

Do you need money to go to college? You probably need to fill out the federal government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. This is the first step if you want financial aid from the federal and state government or most colleges. Filling out the FAFSA can be overwhelming. Don’t worry. There is a lot of help!

The October 2022 FAFSA is officially open! Filling it out will help you finance your 2023-24 college plans.

The FAFSA is an online form designed to take you step-by-step through the questions you need to answer. There is also a hotline to call for help. As you fill out the form, you can speak with an expert at 1-800-433-3243 who can give you good advice on any question you have. (You can use chat or email as well, but in our experience, the phone is best.)

Ask an adult to help you. Your parents, school counselor, or favorite teacher are there for you. There may also be financial aid experts in your community or in your school. And many colleges have people in their admissions department who can help.

Start working on it today. The effort will be worthwhile.

Get Answers: All About the FAFSA

What is the FAFSA, exactly?

Why is the FAFSA important?

How does the FAFSA work? 

Is every student eligible for federal financial aid? 

What kinds of questions does FAFSA ask? 

But I don’t know anything about my parents’ finances! 

When is the FAFSA due? 

Once I’ve submitted my FAFSA form, can I relax? 

How do I make sure to get all the aid I’m eligible for? 

Is the FAFSA for You?

Almost certainly! If you need money for college, you should apply. Filling out the FAFSA can open the door to almost all financial aid—including from the federal government, state government, colleges and many private scholarships.

It’s true that the FAFSA form can seem a bit tricky for some students and families.

The form was designed years ago for a traditional two-parent family. Today’s students often live in much different circumstances, in blended families and a variety of home situations. Some families are new to the United States and may have members who lack full citizenship.

But that’s OK. The online FAFSA will lead you through the questions you need to answer. You can now use a computer, tablet or smartphone to apply for aid. Just take your time–and ask for help if you need it.

If you run into complicated questions, don’t worry. Most people do. Talk to an adult, like a parent or counselor, who can help you.

Or call the FAFSA hotline at 1-800-433-3243. The hotline staff is friendly and can answer just about any question you may have.

Get Answers: Citizenship on the FAFSA

What if my parents and I are not U.S. citizens?

What if my parents are undocumented?

Is it safe to file the FAFSA if my parents are undocumented?

What if I am undocumented?

Get Prepared!

Before you tackle the FAFSA form, you will need your favorite electronic device and an email address. Be sure this is an email address that you check often. It’s important to watch your email closely during the days and weeks after you have submitted your application.

You will also need to gather personal and family financial information:

Personal identification:

Your Social Security number

Social Security numbers for one or both parents

Social Security numbers for one or both parents

Permanent resident cards, if you or your parents are not U.S. citizens

Financial information:

Your parents’ tax records, if you are dependent on one or both of them

A copy of your parents’ foreign tax return, if they live outside the United States

Your own tax records, if you filed returns in the past

Records of untaxed income in your family like Social Security, welfare benefits, or veterans benefits

Find a Screen & Get Started

The time has come to fill out the FAFSA form. Choose a computer, tablet or smartphone. Get online and get settled in. If you are prepared, the form may only take 45 minutes to complete!

But don’t worry if things are more complicated. You can take your time and you can save your work. To get the form done, keep coming back to the FAFSA as often as you like.

Here’s what to do, step-by-step:

Choose your screen! Then type into your favorite search engine. You will be directed to is the right place and works for both desktop and mobile devices.

Next you and one of your parents will need to sign up for a Federal Student Aid ID, also called an FSA ID. This will let you work on your FAFSA form and sign it electronically. You can start this from or type FSA ID into a search engine. It will bring you to Sign-up is simple, but be sure to follow the instructions carefully. 

Remember to get your name and Social Security number exactly right.

Answer all of the questions that the FAFSA form asks about you. Some may seem personal or odd. Don’t worry. The questions are there to determine whether you are eligible for federal aid and whether you are dependent on your parents. Just answer the questions truthfully.

Next, the FAFSA form will ask you for your list of colleges. These colleges will use your FAFSA to determine how much financial aid you are eligible for. You can list up to 10 schools. If you’re applying to more than 10 or want to change your list, you can do this later. If you are still getting your applications together, you can add schools at any time.

It’s best to do the FAFSA form with a parent, teacher, school counselor, or an adult who can help you. Students can fill out the form, but it is usually better to have adult help.

Be sure to find the correct website. Other websites may charge you to file your FAFSA form. The government’s web tools are free and safe. 

Get Answers: Gathering Documents for the FAFSA

What personal information will I need?

What financial information will I need?

Do I need the actual Social Security cards?

What are tax records?

Whose tax records will I need?

Which tax returns do I use?

Expected Family Contribution

The FAFSA form asks lots of questions about your family and how much money your parents make. It may be helpful to understand why you are being asked these questions. Here is the explanation:

There is a limited amount of money available to help students with college costs. The government and colleges need to figure out whether you are eligible for financial help. If you are, they have to estimate how much money you need.

In a nutshell: Do your parents have enough money to help put you through college? If they do, how much could they possibly contribute? This is called your “Expected Family Contribution.” Colleges may refer to it as your “EFC.” It’s an important number.

To calculate the Expected Family Contribution, the FAFSA needs to figure out three things:

Who Are Your Parents?

Are you dependent on them?

Who’s in Your Household?

Who are your parents supporting financially?

How Much Do You and Your Parents Earn?

And what savings might be available for college?

Who Are Your Parents?

Are you “dependent” on at least one parent? For most high school students, the answer is “yes.”

For the FAFSA, you are “dependent” if:

You live with one or both of your parents.

For the FAFSA, a parent is:
Your birth mother or father, a parent who adopted you, or a stepparent who’s married to your birth or adoptive parent.


You’re in touch with one or both of your parents, as defined above. You may actually be living with a grandparent, aunt, sibling, or a close friend. For the FAFSA, you are still “dependent” on your parents if you have occasional contact with them.

For the FAFSA, you are “independent” if:
  • You are 24 years old or older, married, or financially supporting children of your own.
    You are orphaned, in foster care, in legal guardianship, or a ward of the court.
    You are homeless and on your own, or living on your own and at risk of becoming
The FAFSA form will ask you about these situations. Fill it in accurately and then work with your school counselor and your college financial aid office to get the aid you need.

Get Answers: Parents & Family on the FAFSA

What if my parents are divorced or separated?

What if my parents live together but aren’t married?

What if I live with a relative or family friend?

I know where my parents are, but have no contact. What do I do?

If my parents help me fill out the FAFSA form, are they required to help me pay for college?

I think I am an independent student on the FAFSA. What now?

Will I get more money if I’m independent of my parents?

Who’s in Your Household?

The FAFSA form will ask some questions about who you and your parents live with. The FAFSA is trying to determine who else your parents have to support financially in addition to you.

If you are dependent on your parents, your “household” includes:

One or both parents:

If you live with both parents, that counts as 2.

If you live with a parent and a step-parent, that counts as 2.

If you live with one parent, that counts as 1.

If you divide your time between your parents’ homes, you only count the parent with whom you spend most of your time. That counts as 1. (And if they have re-married, that counts as 2.)
Anyone supported by the parents you are living with:
Brothers and sisters (including full, half, or step) at home or in college.

Anyone else in your home (cousins, aunts, grandparents) if your parents are providing more than half of their support.


You! Don’t forget to count yourself. Many students do…

Get Answers: FAFSA’s “Dependency Override”

What if my parents are around, but I have no contact?

How do I get a dependency override?

What kind of proof will I need?

How Much Did You and Your Parents Earn Last Year?

The FAFSA requires family income information to determine how much you and your parents may be able to contribute to your college costs. Ideally, much of this information will come from IRS tax records, making filing simpler. But COVID-19 may have changed your family’s financial picture. If so, follow these steps to complete your FAFSA. Then contact your colleges and bring them up to date.

Be sure to use the FAFSA’s website. The online tools will walk you through every question you need to answer.

If your family files U.S. tax returns, you may be asked if you want to use the “IRS Data Retrieval Tool.” You should use this if you can. The tool will fill in most of your family’s financial information for you! And colleges will know your income information is accurate.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool automatically fills in your family’s tax information using information provided by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the federal agency in charge of collecting taxes. For example, if you plan to start college in September 2023, the FAFSA will use your family’s 2021 tax returns.

One note about using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: To keep your tax information private, the IRS data you transfer will not be visible. You will not be able to double-check or change the information imported into your FAFSA. If you are concerned, do not use the tool. Just type the tax information in on your own.
If you don’t see a link for the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, simply ask your parents for their tax returnsto answer the questions that the FAFSA asks you.

Has COVID-19 had a big impact on your family or finances? You still need to use the IRS tax forms you already have on file, which may not reflect reality. (This will be 2021 tax returns for the upcoming school year.) But colleges want to know what has changed for you. After you submit your FAFSA, contact the colleges you want to attend–and give them the update.

Be sure to read the questions carefully! The FAFSA does ask some questions about your life and family “as of today.” Answer those questions with current information on your family and household.

Get Answers: Financial Information on the FAFSA

What do I do when my life now doesn’t match the old tax returns I am using?

What if I don’t see a link to the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?

What if my parents don’t want to share their financial information?

What if my parents don’t have a U.S. tax return?

Submit Your FAFSA Form

You’ve finished filling out the FAFSA form online. Double-check and triple-check the information you typed in. Follow the instructions that allow you and your parents to electronically “sign” the form. Then, if everything looks good, hit the button and submit it!

But don’t rest easy yet. After you submit your FAFSA, you should see a link to apply for state aid. Do this now! Much of the information may be filled in for you by the FAFSA. Then you need to make sure your FAFSA is processed accurately.

Follow these steps:

Check your email daily. (You will not get a text message; this is email only.)

Within a few days, you should get a “Student Aid Report,” also called a SAR. It will contain a summary of your financial information and a calculation of your “Expected Family Contribution.” That’s a critical number for you. It will help colleges determine how much financial aid you are eligible for.

Look over the Student Aid Report for any errors. If you spot any, go back online and correct them in your application.
Be sure to read the “comments” sectionof the SAR to make sure that there are no additional issues to deal with. (Your FAFSA will not be processed if there is missing information or other problems.)
If you don’t get an email, check online.Y our SAR should be available on the FAFSA website after you l og on. If you don’t get a report or have problems, call the FAFSA hotline at 1-800-433-3243.
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