There are several steps that students and parents can take in advance to prepare for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is a free form that is used to apply for financial aid from the federal government, state governments and most colleges and universities.
The FAFSA application season begins on October 1. It is important to file the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1, since some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis or until the money runs out. So, students who file the FAFSA sooner will get more financial aid funding, on average, as compared with students who file the FAFSA later.
The FAFSA is filed annually, once for each year in college. File the FAFSA even if you think you earn too much money to qualify for financial aid. Most applicants will qualify for at least some student loans. File the FAFSA every year, even if all you got was just loans last year. Subtle changes in family circumstances, such as the number of children enrolled in college at the same time, can have a big impact on eligibility for need-based financial aid.
These steps must be taken each year, before filing the FAFSA.
- Determine the student’s dependency status. The student’s dependency status will affect whether parent information is required on the FAFSA.
- Determine whether parent information is required on the FAFSA. This depends on whether the student is a dependent or independent student, whether the parents are divorced or separated and whether the student’s parents live together.
- If the student is a dependent student, parent information will be required on the FAFSA.
- If the student’s parents are married or are living together, information from both parents will be required on the FAFSA.
- If the student’s parents are divorced or separated and do not live together, then only one parent’s information is required on the FAFSA. This parent is the parent with whom the student lived the most during the year ending on the date the FAFSA is filed (or, failing that, the parent who provided the most financial support to the student).
- If the student is independent, then parent information is not required on the FAFSA.
If you file the FAFSA online, at fafsa.ed.gov, you may have the opportunity to file a renewal FAFSA, which prefills the answers to the demographic questions based on the previous year’s FAFSA. You should review the answers carefully, to make sure that none of the information has changed.
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