Applying for Financial Aid

Applying for federal student aid is easy, and it’s free. You can even apply before you’ve been accepted to a school.

But I hate filling out a bunch of forms.

You don’t have to fill out form after form; all you have to do is complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can even apply electronically from your home computer or from a computer at a central location like your high school, your local public library, or your local educational opportunity center using FAFSA on the Web. All you need is a computer with access to the Internet. FAFSA on the Web can be found at www.studentaid.ed.gov. Click on the FAFSA logo in the left column.

So, If I want or need to use a paper form, where can I get one?

You can get a paper FAFSA—in English or Spanish—from your local library or high school, the college or career school you plan to attend, or from our Federal Student Aid Information Center:

  • Federal Student Aid Information Center
  • PO Box 84
  • Washington, DC 20044
  • 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)

Your college or career school can give you any other forms you might need for school or state aid.

If you use a paper FAFSA, just mail it in the pre-addressed envelope that’s in your FAFSA packet. Or, before mailing it, you could check to see if your school, or a school that interests you, offers the option of submitting your FAFSA information electronically (which is different from you submitting it over the Internet).

When can I apply?

For 2003-2004, you should apply as soon after January 1, 2003, as possible. Don’t transmit your electronic FAFSA or sign, date, or mail your paper FAFSA before January 1, 2003. If you do any of these things, your application will be returned to you.

Your eligibility is determined one award year at a time. The results of your 2003-2004 application are good only for the 2003-2004 award year (July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004, and any summer terms that your school considers part of that award year).

After you’ve applied for the first time, you might be able to apply more easily and quickly in subsequent award years by completing a Renewal FAFSA. With a Renewal FAFSA, you have to fill out generally only the information that changed from the previous award year. The Renewal FAFSA is also available at FAFSA on the Web.

What should I know before I fill out an application?

You need to have a Social Security Number. You’ll need a valid Social Security Number (SSN) to apply for federal student aid. We use your SSN to verify your information and locate your records. If you don’t have an SSN yet, you should apply for one at your local Social Security office. You can find out more about applying at www.ssa.gov

You should have a PIN. If you fill out a FAFSA using FAFSA on the Web, having a PIN (an electronic access code number) allows you (and your parents, if they have a PIN and you’re a dependent student—see the box below) to "sign" your FAFSA electronically. That way, the student aid process can be completed totally online. Your electronic signature holds the same legal status as a written signature, so don’t give out your PIN to anyone.

FAFSA on the Web filers should request a PIN through www.studentaid.ed.gov. At the site, click on "Apply for PIN," right under "My FSA" in the left column. You can also get answers to your PIN questions there. Or, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID. You can’t request a PIN over the phone, but the Information Center can answer your questions.

You’ll need to supply your name, Social Security Number, date of birth, and mailing address, and submit the PIN request. If all the information provided is correct and after it’s verified with the Social Security Administration, a PIN will be generated. You’ll receive your PIN either through the U.S. Postal Service or through e-mail, if you provide your e-mail address.

A PIN has other uses besides allowing you to complete a FAFSA online. Whether you complete an electronic or a paper FAFSA, you should request a PIN because you can use it to access your processed FAFSA data, contained in your Student Aid Report (SAR)—see below); make corrections to your application information; electronically sign a master promissory note (for a student loan); complete your Renewal FAFSA; and access all your applicant data records online. You can, among other things, check your student loan history. You’ll need to know whose information to report on the FAFSA. You’ll need to know whether to report your and your parents’ financial information or just yours. That will be determined by your dependency status. Most students who, like you, are entering college or a career school straight from high school are considered "dependent students." You’re a dependent student unless you were born before January 1, 1980; you’re married; you’re enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program during the school year 2003-2004; you have children who receive more than half their support from you; you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you, who receive more than half their support from you now, and who will continue to receive more than half their support from you through June 30, 2004; you’re an orphan or a ward of the court (or were a ward of the court until age 18); or you’re a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces If you don’t fall into one of the categories mentioned above, you’re dependent, and you have to report both your and your parents’ financial information on the FAFSA. This information will be considered when your eligibility is determined.

If you meet at least one of the listed criteria, you’re independent and report only your financial information (and your spouse’s if you’re married).

In special or unusual circumstances, a college’s or career school’s financial aid administrator might determine that an otherwise dependent student should be considered independent. Please see the "Eligibility Criteria" section for more on this topic.

If you’re dependent and your parents are divorced or separated, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA using information about the parent you lived with for the most time during the 12 months preceding the date of application. If you didn’t live with either parent, or if you lived with each parent an equal number of days, use information about the parent who provided the greater amount of financial support during the 12 months preceding the date of application.

If the parent you receive financial support from was a single parent who is now married, or if the parent you receive support from is divorced or widowed and has remarried, your stepparent’s financial information is required on the FAFSA. This does not mean your stepparent is obligated to give financial assistance to you, but his or her income and assets represent significant information about the family’s resources. Including this information on the FAFSA helps us form an accurate picture of your family’s total financial strength.

What does the application ask for?

Because the FAFSA asks for your family’s financial information, when you complete the 2003-2004 FAFSA or FAFSA on the Web, you’ll need your parents’ 2002 U.S. income tax return if you’re a dependent student. If you filed a return, you’ll need yours, too. Referring to the tax forms makes it easier to answer the FAFSA questions, which ask for information from specific lines on the U.S. income tax forms. If you haven’t completed your tax form in time to use it when filling out the FAFSA, you can estimate your answers and then correct them later. Bank statements, W-2 forms, and business or farm records will also be helpful.

Save all the forms you refer to when completing the FAFSA because you might need them later if your school asks you to show that the information on your FAFSA is correct. If the information is incorrect, you won’t get aid until you make corrections. It’s a good idea to keep a photocopy of your completed FAFSA or a printout of your application from FAFSA on the Web.

On FAFSA on the Web and the paper FAFSA, you can list as many as six schools you’re interested in attending, and those schools will get the results of your application after it’s been processed. Each school that participates in our programs has a federal school code. These codes must be listed in Step Six of the application so that each school that interests you can get your information.

You can get federal school codes from a college or career school financial aid office, your high school, or your local public library. FAFSA on the Web has built-in, searchable federal school code lists.

You aren’t required to list any schools on the paper FAFSA, but if you do, the school you eventually select can deliver your aid faster. If you’re using FAFSA on the Web, you must list at least one school in Step Six of the application.

What if I need help filling out my application?

If you apply using FAFSA on the Web, help in completing the application is built into the program. You can also go to www.ed.gov/prog_info/FSA/FAFSA

You can also contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center with questions on either the paper or electronic FAFSA (see above for contact information). Remember, you can get the help you need for free from one of these sources; you don’t have to pay for assistance.

How can I find out the status of my application after I submit it?

Whether you filed a paper or an electronic application, you can check its status by going to the FAFSA on the Web site.

If you file a paper FAFSA, you can mail the postcard that comes with the FAFSA packet. We’ll stamp the postcard with the date we received your FAFSA and mail the postcard back to you. We’ll process your FAFSA within four weeks of the date you mail it.

You can also check on your application by contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center at the address or phone number given above.

What happens after my application is processed?

After your application information is complete and transmitted or mailed to us, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) (if you applied with a paper FAFSA) or a SAR Information Acknowledgement (if you applied using FAFSA on the Web). But, if you provided your e-mail address on your paper or electronic application, you’ll instead get back an e-mail that contains a secure link so you can access your SAR on the Web. You’ll get this link in one to five days. If you don’t have, or provide, an e-mail address, you’ll get a SAR within four weeks or a SAR Information Acknowledgement within two weeks.

What do I do with my SAR?

When you receive your SAR, you must review it carefully to make sure it’s correct and complete. If it is, and it contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) (see Eligibility Criteria page ), your school will use your SAR as the basis to pay you federal student aid funds. As we stated earlier, the schools you listed on your application will also get a report of your FAFSA information.

If you need to make corrections to your SAR and you applied using a paper FAFSA, you can fix any mistakes by putting the correct answers on the SAR, signing it, and mailing it back.

You can check the information on your SAR Information Acknowledgement, but you cannot use it to make corrections. You’ll need to make corrections through FAFSA on the Web, using your PIN. (See "You should have a PIN" above.) Your school might be able to process corrections electronically for you; check with your school.

Make sure you keep a photocopy of your SAR with the corrections.

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