FAFSA: Mastering Student Financial Aid | WaterStone Bank

From essays to applications, there is a lot that goes into preparing for college. Chief among them is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form. It’s smart to complete the FAFSA form as soon as it’s available, because federal funding is limited.

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA is an application for federal student aid, including federal grants, work-study programs, and loans, for prospective and current students. Some states, colleges, universities, and private lenders also use information from FAFSA to determine students’ eligibility for financial aid. You must complete the FAFSA form for each year you plan to apply for federal aid.

Information reported on the FAFSA form is used to calculate the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This measures a family's financial capacity, determines how much federal aid a student is eligible for, and may be used by your state and schools to determine grant and scholarship eligibility.

When do I need to fill out FAFSA?

FAFSA for the next academic year becomes available on October 1. So, if your student is a rising senior and plans on attending college beginning with the 2025 fall semester, FAFSA will become available on October 1, 2024.

Many colleges have different FAFSA deadlines, so be sure to check each school’s financial aid office. If you’re not sure which schools you’re applying to, that’s OK—just list the ones you’re interested in. Different states also have different deadlines.

Officially, the U.S. Department of Education’s federal deadline to complete FAFSA is June 30; however, the sooner you submit your form, the better. Aim for December at the very latest.

Who should fill out FAFSA?

According to studentaid.gov, “The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is the student’s responsibility, but when a student is considered a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, parents have a large role in the application process.”

When filling out the form, it is important to identify who the student’s primary parent(s) are.

  • Parents married to each other: report information for both parents on FAFSA.
  • Parents who are unmarried but live together: report information for both parents on FAFSA, even if they were never married, are divorced or are separated.
  • Parents who are unmarried and do not live together: if a student lived with one parent more than the other for the last 12 months, they should report that parent’s information on FAFSA. If they spent an equal amount of time living with each parent, they should report the information of the parent who provided more financial support over the last 12 months. If the reporting parent has remarried, also report information for the stepparent on the FAFSA form.

Per studentaid.gov, it is important to note that “dependent students are required to report parent information when completing the FAFSA form.” This includes biological and adoptive parents and legal guardians. Stepparents are considered parents if they are married to a biological or adoptive parent and if the student counts in their household size.

Students who were not dependents of their parent(s) or legal guardian(s) for the last 12 months should fill out the FAFSA form with their own information.

What do I need in order to complete FAFSA?

Parents and children should gather the following materials prior to completing the form:

  • Social Security number, or Alien Registration number for non-U.S. citizens who are eligible noncitizens.
  • Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other records of money earned.
  • Bank statements and records of investments, if applicable.
  • Records of untaxed income, if applicable.

To get started, one parent and the student must both create FSA ID usernames and passwords, which they will use to sign in. Students must also create a save key, a temporary password that enables them to return to partially completed FAFSA forms.

How do I complete FAFSA?

There are three options when it comes to filling out the FAFSA form:

  • Log in at fafsa.gov to complete the form online.
  • Complete the FAFSA PDF for the award year you’re applying for. In this case, you must print and mail the FAFSA PDF for processing.
  • In some cases, schools may submit the FAFSA form for students.

Technically, the form is the student’s application, so where it says “you” on the form, it means the student.

You may use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to transfer your federal tax return information into the FAFSA form. Once you submit your form, you will see a confirmation page and may also see a link to your state’s financial aid application. You may be able to transfer your federal information into the state application. Parents who have more than one child attending college can transfer their information to their other child/children’s FAFSA form(s).

What happens next?

You will receive a confirmation email that your FAFSA form has been submitted, processed, and sent to schools. You may check your application status online or by phone at 1-800-4-FED-AID.

After your application is processed, the student will receive a Student Aid Report. It is important to review this to ensure your information is correct and complete. Students typically receive federal, state and scholarship aid offers from schools in the winter and spring. studentaid.gov has great resources for understanding and comparing aid offers and what they mean for financing education.

Still need help? Visit Federal Student Aid for more information, tips and frequently asked questions.

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