FAFSA Meaning and Application

Paying for College

FAFSA 2022-23 Guide

What does FAFSA mean?

When applying for Federal Student Aid (FSA) for your college education, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA form. It’s crucial to provide all the correct information to make you eligible for financial aid. It’s also the first of the six steps required to qualify for a College Board Opportunity Scholarship.

Unfortunately, some students or their parents struggle to fill out the FAFSA form. While the number of questions can be intimidating, it shouldn’t present too much of a challenge to complete. Read on for all the advice you need when applying for federal student aid.

Should I Fill Out the FAFSA Form?

Anyone who wishes to go to college should fill out the FAFSA form. Not only is the process entirely free, but anyone who applies has a chance to qualify. When you submit a FAFSA form, you’re automatically eligible for a low-interest loan as well. In addition, your family income won’t disqualify you from receiving aid, regardless of your financial situation.

In addition, many work-study programs and some merit-based scholarships require applicants to have the FAFSA. The latter uses it to determine what kind of scholarship you receive.

Requirements for Filling Out the FAFSA

There are some requirements before you can qualify for aid. These range from Social Security numbers to financial information.

  • Your Social Security number and that of your parents if you’re a dependent student.
  • If you have one, a driver’s license.
  • An Alien Registration number if you’re not a U.S. citizen.
  • Any federal tax returns or information, including W-2 forms for you, your spouse, if you have one, and for the parents of dependent students.
  • Records for untaxed income, including interest, veterans noneducation benefits, and child support for you and your parents if you’re a dependent student.
  • Savings, cash, checking account balance information.
  • Except for the current home you reside in, include any documentation for any investments and real estate information.
  • Farm and business assets information for you and your parents if you’re a dependent.

Tax returns can include Form 1040, a foreign tax return such as 1040NR, 1040NR-EZ, and more. If you live in the following regions, you also need to attach a tax return from these locations:

  • Puerto Rico
  • Guam
  • American Samoa
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • The Marshall Islands
  • The Federated States of Micronesia
  • Palau

Even if you fulfill all requirements, it’s best to submit early. Aid will be provided to applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, the sooner you file, the likelier you’ll receive financial assistance.

Each year, you can apply for aid starting from October 1. However, it’s also mandatory to file a new FAFSA before every academic year to receive further financial assistance.
Colleges have their own deadlines for receiving FAFSA forms. It’s best to confirm these dates with the financial aid office.

FAFSA Detailed Guide

This section will help you fill out the FAFSA form. There are more than 100 questions, though you won’t have to answer them all. Below, we’ll list related questions in groups before explaining what information you need to provide.
The form itself groups questions into seven “Steps.” Answer all questions unless stated otherwise.

First Step

The first step is mainly about you, the applicant. You’ll have to provide personal information, including the following:

  • Full name
  • Permanent mailing address
  • Social Security number
  • Birthdate
  • Email address
  • Citizenship and nationality
  • Marital status and related information
  • Gender
  • Criminal offenses if you have been convicted while receiving federal student aid
  • Highest level of schooling of your parents
  • Status of high school completion
  • Planned degree type

This section is straightforward, as these questions are clear-cut and require factual information. It’s best to double-check everything before submitting, however.

Second Step

The second step involves your tax and financial information. Whether you’re unmarried, separated, divorced, widowed, or single, you only have to answer for yourself. Married and remarried applicants must answer for their spouses.

First, you’ll see several questions referring to your tax returns, adjusted gross income, earnings, and more. If you’re married, it’s important to answer on behalf of your spouse. Some of the questions include the information we listed in the requirements section above.

If requested, you need to include the combined earnings for you and your spouse. This also applies to those who earned nothing for a category, but their spouse did.
You don’t have to write down cents when filling out financial information. Note that this rule applies to the whole document.

Third Step

All questions in the third step need yes or no answers. These questions will help determine if you need to provide parental information. Any yes answers will require you to skip Step Four and move on to Step Five. Otherwise, you can move on to Step Four after answering everything in this section.
The questions will touch upon these subjects:

  • Your age
  • Marital status
  • If you are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • If your parents are alive
  • If you are an emancipated minor
  • If you were homeless
  • Whether or not you lived in a homeless youth center
    There are notes on pages 9-10 that help clarify some of the questions, but they shouldn’t be too difficult to answer.

Fourth Step

The FAFSA form has strict definitions for “parents.” They will be your legal parents, as the state determines. Other relatives aren’t considered parents unless they have adopted you legally. Try to answer for both legal parents where applicable.

If your parent was never married, is remarried, separated, widowed, or divorced, you’ll need to call a number for further assistance when filling out questions 79-92. The contact number is 1-800-433-3245 and can also be found on the form itself. Only call the number if you answered “Unmarried and both legal parents living together” for question 58.

As already established, Step Four involves filling out information about your legal parents, and many questions are similar to those in Step Two. Again, fill out a zero if the question doesn’t apply to your parents.
Be prepared to see these subjects:

  • Parents’ personal information
  • Parents’ financial information
  • Parents’ income

Fifth Step

You only have to complete Step Five if you answered “Yes” to one of the questions in Step Three. This section will require you to provide your household size, number of members, and more. You will also have to fill out whether anyone else in the family will be a college student between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023.

Step Five will seek to ascertain if anyone from your household received any federal benefits, and you only have to include those that apply. If you or anyone in the family didn’t receive any assistance, proceed to the next question.
Question 100 asks if you or your spouse are a dislocated worker.

Sixth Step

The applicant must indicate which colleges they want to receive all the FAFSA information in the sections above. In addition, the form will require federal school codes, all of which can be found using this webpage or by calling 1-800-433-3245. If a school code can’t be found, write the complete name and address of the college.

While the order you put the colleges in doesn’t matter for federal student aid purposes, it may affect eligibility for state aid. Therefore, it’s best to consult the state agency or this page for assistance. Ensure you also check the correct housing plans in the section.

Seventh Step

The final section in the FAFSA is simply where students and parents sign. There is a disclaimer, and the consequences of providing false information are clearly outlined. If you paid a preparer to help you fill out the form, they would also have to provide personal details and sign in a box at the left corner.

The bottom right corner of Step Seven is for the college’s use only, and you shouldn’t enter or write anything on it. Both pages that follow Step Seven are notes for questions where additional clarification can be found. If something you need help with isn’t in the notes, call for assistance.

The form will only be partially processed if you submit your FAFSA without signatures. Typically, you’ll get a Student Aid Report within three to five days, but the Expected Family Contribution won’t be calculated. Without a signature, you won’t be eligible for federal student aid. However, you may be eligible for state or local aid.

Types of Aid You May Receive

There are four types of financial aid that you may receive after filling out the 2022-2023 FAFSA form:

  • Grants
  • Loans
  • Scholarships
  • Work-study offers

Student Grants

Grants are beneficiary funds that applicants don’t have to pay back. The following organizations may provide you with a grant:

  • The federal government
  • The state government
  • Your college
  • A private organization

There are four primary federal grants that students may be eligible for:

  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
  • Federal Pell Grants
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)

Federal Pell Grants are only provided to undergraduate students with exceptional financial needs who haven’t earned a degree. You’ll also need a clean background with no criminal record. Unless there are certain circumstances, a Federal Pell Grant doesn’t have to be repaid.

Federal Pell Grants can amount to $6,495 a year, though it varies by year and situation.

Only the financial aid offices of participating schools allocate the FSEOG to applicants. You will receive between $100-$4,000 a year depending on your situation, and each school distributes the amount from a set sum provided by the government. After the sum is allocated, there will be no further FSEOG funds available. You don’t have to repay an FSEOG, but there are some rare exceptions.

Those who qualify for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant will have at least one parent who served in the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or Afghanistan and lost their lives in the line of duty. You also have to be under 24 years old or at least a part-time college student at the time of your parent or guardian’s death.

This grant is similar to a Federal Pell Grant in size and eligibility. Still, it is only reserved for those who qualify in all requirements except for the Expected Family Contribution.

TEACH Grants are for those who participate in a TEACH-Grant-eligible program, meet specific academic requirements, receive special counseling, and sign an agreement. It provides up to $4,000 a year for students who wish to become teachers. Unless you don’t complete the service obligation, you won’t have to repay the TEACH grant like a loan.

Student Loans

In contrast to grants, loans are funds that must be repaid. There are four types of loans:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans

You must have the ability to repay the loan in its entirety and make sure to read all the conditions before taking it out. Typically, federal student loans have more benefits than private loans.

Direct Subsidized Loans are for eligible undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need to cover their college educations. On the other hand, Unsubsidized Direct Loans are for those who don’t have financial needs. Hence, the eligibility requirements are different.

Direct PLUS Loans are for graduate or professional students and the parents of dependent undergraduate students to pay for expenses not covered by other aid. A credit check is required for this loan, and the criteria will be different for those with a poor credit history.

Direct Consolidation Loans let students combine all federal student loans into a single loan that has one loan creditor.

The first two loans allow you to borrow up to $12,500 a year with a minimum of $5,500. Graduate or professional students can have Unsubsidized Direct Loans of $20,500 a year. As for Direct PLUS Loans, the amount depends on the school.

Scholarships and Work-Study

Some scholarships require a FAFSA submission. The Federal Work-Study program will provide part-time employment for undergraduate and graduate students with financial needs. The program will prioritize industries related to your future career or field of study. Make sure to submit the FAFSA early as work-study slots are limited.

How to Fill the FAFSA Form

There are three ways to fill out a FAFSA form, two of which are digital. The third way is to print the form out, fill it in, and mail it to the designated location.

Using the Federal Student Aid Website

If this is your first time filling out a FAFSA form, you’ll need to create an FSA ID, even if you’re a parent filling the form out for your child. However, the process only takes 10 minutes, and you can apply for an FSA ID online at any time.

When you visit the FSA Website, start filling the form out and only provide the correct information. If this isn’t your first time, you can pick the renewal option and access the saved information. This way, you can update the form with new figures as required and save time.

Filling the Form Using myStudentAID Mobile App

Unfortunately, the FSA retired the myStudentAid Mobile App on June 30, 2022, since students, parents, and borrowers, have shown, according to the FSA, less interest in using it.

The alternative for anyone looking to apply using a mobile device is simply visiting the StudentAid.gov website on the mobile device through the device’s internet browser, as with any other visited website.

Once you are reached the FSA website search for the FAFSA form and follow all instructions.

Remember – you’ll need a valid FSA ID before you can fill out the form so make sure you create one before you start filling out the FAFSA form.

Sending Out by Mail

Alternatively, you can print out the FAFSA PDF file using a printer and fill it out manually. After completing the form, mail pages 3 through 8 to this address:

Federal Student Aid Programs, P.O. Box 7654, London, KY 40742-7654

You’ll receive a Student Aid Report after three to five days if you provide an email address. If not, an SAR will be sent to you within three weeks in the mail. Of course, you can call 1-800-433-3243 to check your application’s status too.

Filling out the FAFSA physically doesn’t require an FSA ID. However, it’s best to get one and use either of the two outlined methods to make the application process faster. The ID is also used to sign loan contracts and access other information online.

As you’ll be using a pen to write everything down, be sure to use black ink.

All words should be in neat capital letters. For spaces, skip a box between every word.

Completing the Form

The FAFSA form isn’t challenging to complete once you understand what the government wants to know. The financial information you provide should be carefully researched, and you can use your tax return to help provide accurate figures. If everything is entered correctly, you won’t have to resubmit the form.

Federal aid is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. For that reason, it’s best not to procrastinate when filling out the FAFSA form. But, on the other hand, your chances of getting approved are much higher if you send it off now.