All types of federal financial aid start with the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) form. You should complete this form as soon as possible after January 1st of the year you plan to attend college (January 2nd would be ideal). The good news is that even if you're applying to three colleges, you'll only need to complete one FAFSA form.

We highly recommend that you file online at www.fafsa.gov. Online filing can be seven to 14 days faster than mailing an application. In fact, it may be hard to find a paper application. You'll need a lot of documents to fill in the form correctly. So, before completing the form, use this checklist to gather the paperwork you'll need.


Based on the information you provide, the FAFSA processor will determine how much you can afford to pay out of pocket for your education. If you're a dependent, the processor will also determine how much your family should contribute. The FAFSA form is extremely important and you should take the time to fill it out completely and honestly.

Some of the questions on the form may be confusing. To get help, you can work with your high school guidance counselor, a college's financial aid office, or College Goal Sunday (http://www.collegegoalsundayusa.org/). College Goal Sunday is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals complete the FAFSA.

FAFSA form

When completing the form, keep these points in mind:
  • Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So, file as soon as you can.
  • File online, if possible. Not only does it cut processing time, but it can help you catch errors right away.
  • Read the instructions carefully and ask for help when needed. Errors or incomplete information will delay processing and could jeopardize your chances for aid.
  • If you do not yet have completed tax forms, estimate your tax information to the best of your ability.
  • Keep a copy of your FAFSA form and the paperwork used to complete the form.
  • File a FAFSA every year you enroll in college.

About a week after you submit an online FAFSA form, you will receive the Student Aid Report (SAR). The report will list your "Expected Family Contribution"- how much you or your family should reasonably be able to pay out of pocket for college for one student for one year.

The difference between your "Expected Family Contribution" and the cost of college is the amount of financial aid you will seek to pay for college costs. Because each college has different financial aid guidelines, don't rule out an expensive college until you have applied for financial aid.

Checklist for FAFSA Form

Social Security number (and your parents' number if you are a dependent).
  Driver's license.
  Latest W-2 forms and other records of money earned.
  Your latest Federal Income Tax Return. This can be an IRS Form 1040/1040A/1040EZ. If married, you'll need your spouse's tax return as well.
  Parents' latest Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student*).
  Untaxed income records. This could include any needs-tested benefits received in the past two years through Supplemental Security Income, Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and so on. You also must disclose untaxed income such as child support and living allowances provided to members of the military or clergy and any non-education veterans' benefits you receive.
  Current bank statements.

*Note: If you don't know whether you are a dependent or an independent student, visit