FAFSA Worksheet: A Step-by-Step

Students talking to professorDuring the 2011-2012 academic year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was submitted by 21,945,597 hopeful students in pursuit of a more affordable way to reach their academic and career-related goals, per FinAid. The application is the starting point for everything from grants and loans to scholarships and more.

Overseen by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid, a myriad of factors go into deciding whether or not an applicant is eligible for certain kinds of aid. What most people find disconcerting is the process involved in applying. While the FAFSA worksheet itself is incredibly helpful and includes thorough instructions, some of the jargon used can be confusing for the new student.

College Confusion

When attempting to fill out the FAFSA, confusion is almost expected for the first-time student, but even those who’ve been doing it for a year or two can find themselves perplexed by some of the details they encounter. The following guidelines can assist you when you’re ready to file your FAFSA.

It may behoove you to file your tax return prior to applying, or you’ll have to update it later after you do. You can’t submit your application before the first of the year, and the deadline for it is June 30th. Keep these dates in mind; you do not want to miss the cut-off date or you can’t apply. In addition, take note of any deadlines that the schools you’re interested in may impose; sometimes they’re far earlier than the summer deadline the FAFSA permits.

Step 1

The application can be filled out and submitted online, which is what US News reports over 98 percent of applicants do. If you’re choosing to mail your application the old-fashioned way, you can still print the paperwork from the FAFSA website. Otherwise, you can request that a paper copy be mailed to you.

Step 2

Next you’ll need to apply for your FSA ID. You’ll be required to login with your FSA ID every time you need to access or submit your FAFSA over the coming years, so keep it in a safe place.

Step 3

Determine your dependency status, start filling out your FAFSA, and take care when entering numbers and data that will be used to calculate your eligibility. You’ll need to gather important documents in order to input the required data into your FAFSA forms, such as:

When applying online, you may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer and input that data for you.

Step 4

Look up the identification numbers for any colleges you’ve applied to or are interested in. Those you select will receive a copy of your financial aid status after your FAFSA has been processed.

Step 5

Compute your total earned income and tax return amounts.

Step 6

Sign your FAFSA and submit it by either mailing it in or inputting it when applying online.

What Comes Next?

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that around 75 to 85 percent of first-time undergraduate students enrolled on a full-time basis during the 2006-2007 and 2011-2012 school years at 4-year degree granting colleges were using some form of financial aid. You’re competing with a large number of other students so the earlier you apply, the better your chances of receiving the maximum amount of funds you’re eligible for.

Moving forward, carefully review all the information you input for errors, which can delay the processing of your application.


FAFSA Topics

What are your financial aid options?