An In-Depth Look at the FAFSA

College Finance
November 11, 2019
Filling Out The FAFSA Is One Of The First Steps Any Student Should Take When Planning To Attend College…

The FAFSA application allows students access to the financial aid they need to help pay for college. While many students find the FAFSA application a bit intimidating at first, it’s a relatively pain-free process to fill out the form once you’ve gathered all your resources.

WeAdmit’s in-depth look at the FAFSA applications takes you through the big questions: what is FAFSA, why do I need to fill it out, and how can it benefit me?


What Is The FAFSA Application?

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a form that students submit to receive financial aid. The FAFSA is what allows students access to federal and state financial aid like grants and federal student loans. Students are asked to resubmit the form every year they’re in college, and thankfully, it can be completed online in around half an hour.

FAFSA exists to help simplify the financial aid process for students, schools, and the government. Completing the FAFSA is the only way to receive access to federal financial aid, moreover, many colleges use the FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for in-school financial aid such as scholarships and work-study programs.

Should I Fill Out The FAFSA?

Completing the FAFSA is the first step in paying for your college education.

All students planning to attend college should complete the FAFSA. Recall that FAFSA is used as a unified resource by the government, states, and schools to determine aid. Even private scholarships often ask for your FAFSA information to help determine eligibility.

Despite the common myth that a high income can disqualify you from all federal aid, your families’ income is not the only factor that the government uses to determine if you qualify for aid. Even if you believe you don’t qualify for need-based federal aid, you should fill out the FAFSA anyway. Not only will this ensure you aren’t missing out on any school or state-specific aid, but you may also qualify for financial aid even if you think your circumstances disqualify you.

When Should I Apply For The FAFSA?

You should always fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible each year. Not only will this allow you to focus your attention on more important school-related tasks, but there’s also no worry about missing deadlines if you tackle your FAFSA application at the first opportunity.

Students can begin submitting their FAFSA application for the next school year as early as October 1st. The deadline for submitting the FAFSA for the 2020 - 2021 school year is June 30th, 2020.

Submitting your FAFSA as soon as possible puts you in the best position to secure financial aid. Many colleges and states have a limited amount of financial aid they can provide per year. Since this aid is awarded to the first qualified applicants, submitting your application as early as possible puts you at the front of the financial aid line.

How To Fill Out The FAFSA

Thankfully, the FAFSA can be filled out entirely online at You should set aside a period of one to two hours where you won’t be interrupted the first time you fill out the FAFSA. This will allow you to carefully go through the application and fill out your information accurately.


To properly complete the FAFSA, you’ll need information pulled from a variety of important documents. Before sitting down to start your FAFSA, be sure you have access to the following:

  • Your personal information, including your Social Security Number
  • Your parent’s personal information, even if you don’t live with them
  • Financial information for your household (You can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool within the online FAFSA to help)
  • A list of colleges that you’re applying to (You can add more once you’ve figured out how many colleges you’re applying to)


The first step of actually completing the FAFSA is creating your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. Your FSA ID refers to the username and password you use to login to various websites dedicated to federal student aid like Each student has their own unique FSA ID and cannot share an account with their parents.

Your parents should have their own FSA IDs if they wish to sign the FAFSA forms online. Therefore, if you plan to submit your FAFSA online, now would be a good time to get an FSA ID for one of your parents as well.

Your FSA ID can be used to legally sign the FAFSA, and therefore you should use a strong password and never allow anyone to use your account. Make sure you store your username and password somewhere safe; you’ll be using your FSA ID every year to resubmit your FAFSA.


The FAFSA’s online form will walk you through each step of filling out your information. You’ll start with your basic personal information before moving on to specifics about your family, parents, and household financials.

You can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to pull your family’s financial information from previous tax returns. Alternatively, you can use a hard copy of you and your parent’s tax returns to fill in the information yourself.

How you fill out the FAFSA will depend on your family situation. Sitting down with the documents and resources you need to provide your family’s information and household financials helps simplify this step. Students with unique family situations unsure of how to best fill out the FAFSA should seek the advice of a qualified college counselor who can help them navigate the FAFSA application.


Take the time to review your FAFSA before you submit it. There are a variety of little mistakes you can easily make that could delay your financial aid. Double-check addresses, name spellings, and financial information before sending your FAFSA application. While there is a process for correcting information on your FAFSA, it’s recommended you don’t hit submit until you’ve thoroughly checked your application for accuracy.

To submit your FAFSA online, you and one parent or guardian will need to electronically sign the FAFSA application using your FSA IDs.

Once that’s finished, congrats! You’ve completed and submitted your FAFSA application. Generally, your application will be processed and you’ll hear back from FAFSA within 5 business days.

How Parents Can Help

Completing the FAFSA application can be a daunting task for a student to take on alone. Students who don’t fill out the FAFSA have a laundry list of reasons:

  • 23% didn’t have enough information about how to actually complete the FAFSA
  • 15% didn’t know they could complete the FAFSA
  • And a staggering 9% of students thought completing the FAFSA application was too much paperwork

Parents can help students complete the FAFSA by first gathering necessary resources and information. Read up on how the FAFSA determines aid (hint: your finances are not the only factor) and what type of financial aid is available to help pay for college. Keep hard copies of your taxes available if you do not wish to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to fill in your household financial information on the FAFSA.

Equally as important, parents can help students complete the FAFSA by making themselves available to answer questions and provide support. From the basics of your exact birthdate to your Social Security Number, there may be a lot of questions asked on the FAFSA that your student won’t immediately know the answer to. As a parent, being there to provide answers or to help with quick research can make tackling the FAFSA application easier and less intimidating for your student.

Filling Out The FAFSA Is Essential

Everyone who plans to attend college should fill out the FAFSA, even if they believe they can pay for college on their own or that they won’t qualify for federal aid. The FAFSA application is used as a central form for most types of financial aid. Students who neglect to complete their FAFSA can miss out on much more than just federal student aid and federal student loans.

Paying for college can be a complex process where you’re pulling funds from federal, state, colleges, and private sources. Completing the FAFSA should be the first step in the process to keep you on track.

Fortunately, our WeAdmit counselors are well-versed in guiding students through the early steps of the college admissions process all the way to getting into the college of your dreams. We know what it’s like to be faced with what feels like a mountain of paperwork, and we have the skills and tools needed to guide students through even the toughest applications.

After All, This First Step In Paying For College Is Nothing To Worry About If You’re Prepared.



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