woman at computer learning how to apply for FAFSA

College Success

How To Fill Out the FAFSA [Quick Tips]

09.06.2022 • 9 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

Here’s a quick and easy guide on how to fill out the FASFA form with easy-to-follow steps, tips, FAQs, and more.

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In This Article

  1. Complete the FAFSA in 10 Steps

  2. FAFSA Eligibility

  3. 7 Tips When Filling Out the FAFSA

  4. 4 FAFSA Application FAQs

  5. Earn Your Associate Degree Faster

GGU’s Degrees+ tuition is so low that financial aid may cover the entire cost for students that qualify. Each year, 42% of students receive an average of $5,179 in federal grants—aid that exceeds Degrees+ annual tuition of $4,470 and does not need to be repaid like student loans.

Your first stop as you consider ways to pay for Degrees+ should be FAFSA. FAFSA is an application created by the federal government. It’s used to determine financial aid for college students based on need. The state and federal governments basically look at the cost of education at your chosen school(s) and compare it to your family’s income.

By filling out this application, you may qualify for these:

  • Federal and state grants (which you don’t have to repay!)

  • Federal student loans

  • Work-study opportunities

  • Scholarships

Complete the FAFSA in 10 Steps

The Federal Student Aid Office of the US Department of Education gives a quick overview of the application process:

When you fill out the FAFSA, follow these 10 steps:

1. Have Important Documents and Information Ready

Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) dictates the amount of financial aid you receive. Your information entered on the FAFSA application will determine your EFC.

You can save time applying by having the following information on hand:

  • Current personal income information

  • Bank statements

  • Your social security number or alien registration number

  • Your driver’s license

  • Family tax information (tax return) from the previous year

  • List of colleges you’re applying to

Note: You may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool for tax information. (More on this in step 6.)

2. Set Up Your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID

Once on studentaid.gov, you need to create an FSA ID before you begin the FAFSA. You can also do this through the myStudentAid mobile app.

An FSA ID is a unique identification number for the FAFSA application. Every person will have their own separate FSA ID to log into the FAFSA website, including parents and students. Although parents are not required to fill anything out, you will have to input parent information into the FAFSA application. See Step 4.

You will use your FSA ID every year you complete the FAFSA.

3. Fill Out Your Demographic Information

Demographics involve your personal information such as your name, date of birth, social security number, etc.

Make sure your demographic information is exactly as it states on your social security card. If your information is different from your social security card, you will not receive an accurate Student Aid Report (SAR).

The same goes for parents. Parents must put the correct person’s information into each section. On the student page, “your” is referring to the student, not the parent. Check the banner to see which page you are viewing before inputting information.

4. Add Your List of Schools

Each year you can list up to 10 schools to send your FAFSA information to. These can be schools that haven’t accepted you yet. If you’re only applying for Degrees+, this step should be simple.

Each school has its federal school code.

Pro-tip: Golden Gate University’s code is: 001205

You can find other schools’ codes in the application using the search tool in the School section. Search for schools by selecting the state and entering the school name. By listing several schools on your FAFSA, you’ll discover how much aid you can get from each college.

5. Enter Parent Information

Even if you are no longer a dependent, you must fill this section out. Enter their names, addresses, and financial information.

Dependent students qualify for less in student loans than independent students. But they still qualify for federal grants and work-study opportunities equally.

Students can change their dependency status if it’s different from their last federal income tax return. Make these changes on the “Make Corrections” option on the FAFSA page or through your school’s financial aid office.

6. Enter Your Financial Information

This section shows the financial information of your household.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) fills in most information automatically. With it, you can securely transfer information from your federal tax return to the FAFSA form. You can locate the “Link to IRS” button in the Finances section of the online form. If you are eligible to use this tool, you will see it there.

Use your bank statements and tax documents to finish the rest of the FAFSA questions. If your financial information has changed since last year, contact the school(s) you’re applying to and let them know.

7. Review and Submit Your FAFSA

Look over carefully all your information on the FAFSA. Make sure everything is correct.

Some states have their own financial aid form. You may have the option to transfer FAFSA information onto your state form.

Once you’re sure everything is ready, you will electronically sign and submit your FAFSA.

8. Review Your Student Aid Report (SAR) and Verify Your Identity

After submitting your FAFSA, you will get a Student Aid Report within the next week. This report will let you know if there are errors that need to be fixed. The report will not have any financial aid decisions, only your EFC.

You can also log in to your FAFSA account to check the status. If there are errors that need to be fixed, do this right away.

Some students are chosen randomly to complete a further identity verification process. If you’re one of them, be sure to complete the verification immediately.

9. Wait To Accept or Decline Federal Financial Aid

Each school will tell you your total financial aid package for each year you complete the FAFSA. GGU replies within two weeks.

Once you get your award letter, you can accept or decline your aid offer. You can even accept a partial amount from each school you listed. Talk to each college’s financial aid office for assistance.

Having this information will help you know your college expenses upfront. Then you can create a budget that works for you.

10. Fill out the FAFSA for each year

As you go through school, your finances may change. For example, you may find a part-time job or have a significant life change. That’s why it’s filled out every year. Any changes may affect your need for financial aid.

When you complete your FAFSA aid application for another year, remember to do it early.

Below is a list of upcoming 2022-2025 FAFSA dates:

SCHOOL YEARTAX INFORMATION YEARFAFSA OPENS
2022-20232020October 1, 2021
2023-20242021October 1, 2022
2024-20252022October 1, 2023

Once school has started, complete the FAFSA for the next year—since it has a 21-month window. You will not have these funds available to you at the start of the school year if you wait to complete the FAFSA.

How to apply for FAFSA in 10 steps

FAFSA Eligibility

Know these basic aid eligibility requirements before filling out a FAFSA:

  • Be a US citizen or eligible non-citizen

  • Hold a high school diploma, GED, or certified homeschool equivalent

  • Be enrolled above 50% part time

  • Not be in default of a current student loan or federal grant

As long as you meet this criteria, you are eligible to complete a FAFSA.

7 Tips When Filling Out the FAFSA

1. Fill out the FAFSA no matter what.

Don’t assume your family makes too much money to qualify for financial aid. By filling out the FAFSA, you will know for sure. Remember, you do not have to accept it.

2. Submit the FAFSA as close to October 1st as you can.

It takes time to:

  • Decide what you need

  • Gather the information you need to fill out the FAFSA

  • Go through the application

  • Wait for the results

The state, local, and college agencies use the FAFSA to determine your financial aid. The earlier you get it done, the more aid available to you. Procrastinating could really cost you.

3. Double check your information.

This is the most common mistake. Ensure that the student demographic information is what is put in the student section and not that of the parent(s).

If parent information is put into the student section—and the FAFSA is submitted—you could miss out on thousands of dollars in financial aid.

4. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT).

Want to save time? Link your demographic information on the FAFSA to your IRS financial information.

The biggest benefit of using the IRS DRT is that your tax information is completely accurate. This ensures no errors when putting in detailed tax information on the application.

When entering your financial information into the FAFSA, an option button will pop up that says “Link to IRS.” You need to click this button to allow the FAFSA access to your tax information.

5. Put down all colleges that interest you.

You’re allowed to put up to 10 colleges on the application. Put down any school that you are even remotely interested in.

By listing multiple schools, you will know if you can get more money—grants, loans, work-study—for one school versus another.

This gives you all the information you need when choosing.

6. Complete a FAFSA application each year.

You’ve read this before. Yes, it’s that important. You must complete the FAFSA for each school year. Since your financial situation usually changes from year to year, the amount of money you receive could too.

7. Talk to your school’s financial aid office if your income changes.

Often students notice that their income situation has changed. If this is the case, talk to the financial aid office. Your school’s financial aid office can answer any questions you have. Ask away. GGU’s enrollment counselors are standing by to help!

4 FAFSA Application FAQs

1. How long does it take to complete the application?

As long as you have all your information ready, the FAFSA will only take about an hour to complete each year.

2. When is the FAFSA due?

On October 1st, application time starts for the following academic year.

The federal government gives students 21 months before the FAFSA deadline. Have the FAFSA done as early as possible and definitely before the start of the school year.

3. Do you have to pay FAFSA money back?

If you are awarded federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, you do not need to pay this money back. This is also true for other types of grants, scholarships, and work-study funds.

Any federal loans taken will need to be paid back, with interest starting 6 months after you graduate. 4. What is the difference between a subsidized and unsubsidized loan?

Subsidized loans are typically offered to undergraduate students. These loans don’t accrue interest while you are in school.

Unsubsidized loans are offered mainly to graduate students and professional students. An unsubsidized loan will start accruing interest as soon as funds are released. It would be a good idea to pay the interest while in school so it doesn’t accrue too quickly.

Both types of loans do not require minimum payments until after graduation.

A PLUS loan is a third type that is offered on top of the other loans. These loans are unsubsidized and have a higher interest rate.

Completing the FAFSA is a wise choice, whether you choose to take out loans or not. By filling it out, you will know your options when it comes to paying for school.

Earn Your Associate Degree Faster

The FAFSA can help with financial aid for college, but there are other ways to save. An affordable online program to consider is Degrees+ by Golden Gate University, powered by Outlier.

Within two years, you’ll:

  • Earn an accredited associate degree from Golden Gate University

  • Earn a career certification from companies like Google, IBM, or Meta to boost your resume

  • Earn 60 college credits from GGU to jump-start a transfer for your bachelor’s degree

  • Save 66% on your education vs. the average US tuition, and graduate with little to no student debt (Source: NCES)

  • Gain lifetime membership to GGU’s 68,000-strong alumni network

  • Access career services and other alumni benefits

Current associate degrees offered are:

  • Business Administration, Associate of Arts (AA)

  • Applied Computing, Associate of Science (AS)

  • Liberal Studies, Associate of Arts (AA)

To level up your career or save on your path to a Bachelor’s degree, check out Degrees+ and apply now.