The FAFSA® Process

Once you understand the FAFSA® process, you'll be able to better inform students. Familiarize yourself with our in-depth FAFSA information and then use the tips and tools on this page to guide your students.

The FAFSA Process

Once you're ready to help students and parents understand and fill out the application, use the tools and tips found on this page to assist with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) process.

We'll also keep you up to date on the latest FAFSA news, proposed changes for next year, etc.; and if you want FAFSA completion data by high school, we've got that too.

Send your students to StudentAid.gov/fillingout for an introduction to the FAFSA form and tips on how to fill it out.

Early Eligibility Indicator Tool: Federal Student Aid Estimator
Helping Students Learn About the FAFSA® Form
Financial Aid PowerPoint Presentations
Screenshots of FAFSA® Form
FAFSA® Prototype
Getting a StudentAid.gov Account
Deadlines: When To Apply
Tips on Filling Out the FAFSA® Form
Contributors
FUTURE Act Direct Data Exchange
Student Aid Index
Dependency Status
Who Counts As a Parent
Unusual Circumstances
Special Circumstances
Exempt From Asset Reporting
After Applying: Helping Students Understand and Respond to Aid Offers
Tools for Comparing Aid Offers
Verification


Early Eligibility Indicator Tool: Federal Student Aid Estimator

The Federal Student Aid Estimator helps potential applicants understand their options for paying for college or career school by providing them an early estimate of how much federal student aid—grant, work-study, and loan funds—they may be eligible for.

Federal Student Aid Estimator(Result Type: General)
Description: An aid calculator giving students an early estimate of federal student aid eligibility and helping them understand their options for paying for college.
Resource Type: Web Resource or Tool
Also Available in: Spanish(Result Type: General)

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Helping Students Learn About the FAFSA® Form

Before your students dive in to filling out the FAFSA form, you might want to give them an idea of what to expect. Below are some tools that will help you introduce the application to students.

Talking point: Remind students that the FAFSA form is a free application and is found at fafsa.gov.


Financial Aid PowerPoint Presentations

You'll find a selection of presentations on the Toolkit's "Search Financial Aid Tools and Resources" page. You can edit them to include information about your state's financial aid, scholarships available in your area, and so on, and use them at financial aid information events.


Screenshots of the FAFSA® Form

If you'd like to incorporate a preview of the online application into your PowerPoint presentation, you may wish to use some of the "screenshots" (images of webpages) that we provide each year to show highlights of the upcoming version of the FAFSA site.

2024–25 FAFSA® Form Preview Presentation(Result Type: General)
Description: Presentation providing screenshots of the 2024–25 FAFSA form. Feel free to use the screenshots as you compile your own presentations.
Resource Type: Presentation


FAFSA® Prototype

The 2024–25 FAFSA prototype offers you an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the 2024–25 FAFSA user experience. The FAFSA prototype is not a complete replica of the 2024–25 FAFSA form. Instead, it's a web-based design tool that allows users to navigate specific scenarios that many 2024–25 applicants will encounter on the live website. Learn more about the FAFSA prototype and how to access it.

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Getting a StudentAid.gov Account

We encourage students and parents to get their StudentAid.gov account before filling out the FAFSA form. Anyone (student, the student's spouse, a biological or adoptive parent, or the parent's spouse) who's required to provide information on the FAFSA form needs a StudentAid.gov account before accessing and completing their section of the online form. Contributors will access their StudentAid.gov account by using their FSA ID (account username and password).

Don't ask students to share their FSA IDs with you for safekeeping, even if you are helping them to apply for aid. The FSA ID must not be shared with anyone. If a student forgets their FSA ID, they can go to StudentAid.gov/login and follow the links that give the option of retrieving the account username or password via the student's verified email address or mobile phone number, or by successfully answering their challenge questions.

Tip: If a student thinks the Social Security Administration (SSA) might have their wrong name or date of birth in its records, the student should go to ssa.gov as soon as possible to find out how to correct any errors. If the student's information isn't correct in the SSA's records, the student can create a limited StudentAid.gov account, but they won't be able to sign their FAFSA form and provide consent and approval. Without consent and approval to have their federal tax information transferred into the FAFSA form, the student will not be eligible for federal student aid.

Tip: Contributors without a Social Security number (SSN) can create a StudentAid.gov account to fill out their portion of the student's FAFSA form online.

Find resources you can use to educate students and parents about the StudentAid.gov account.

Why Do My Contributors and I Need Our Own Accounts for the 2024–25 FAFSA Form? video(Result Type: General)
Description: Video explaining why students and their contributors need StudentAid.gov accounts to access and complete the 2024–25 FAFSA form.
Resource Type: Video

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Deadlines: When To Apply

The 2024–25 FAFSA form is available for the award year that runs from July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2025. A student can submit the application any time until the end of the award year to apply for federal student aid. However, it's important to note that state higher education agencies and many colleges and career schools use FAFSA information to determine a student's eligibility for aid from their state or school funds. Therefore, the student should check StudentAid.gov/fafsa-deadlines for their state deadline and check the college's or career school's website for the school's deadline.

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Tips on Filling Out the FAFSA® Form

Here, we wanted to give you some additional information that might help you as you advise your students.


Contributors

A contributor refers to anyone (student, the student's spouse, a biological or adoptive parent, or the parent's spouse) who's required to provide information on the FAFSA form. A student's or parent's answers on the FAFSA form will determine which contributors (if any) will be required to provide information. Students or parents will invite a contributor to complete their portion of the FAFSA form by entering the contributor's name, date of birth, SSN, and email address.

Note: If a contributor doesn't have an SSN, they can still be invited to complete their portion of the FAFSA form. To invite a contributor who doesn't have an SSN, the student or parent will indicate that the contributor doesn't have an SSN and will instead provide the contributor's mailing address.

To complete the contributor's portion of the FAFSA form, the contributor will

  1. receive an email informing them that they've been identified as a contributor;
  2. create a StudentAid.gov account if they don't already have one;
  3. review information about completing their section of the FAFSA form; and
  4. provide the required personal and financial information and consent and approval on the student's FAFSA form.

IMPORTANT: A parent or spouse contributor is not financially responsible for the student's education costs. However, if a required contributor refuses to provide their information and consent and approval, the FAFSA form will be incomplete, and the student will not be eligible for federal student aid.

Who Is a Contributor on the 2024–25 FAFSA® Form? video(Result Type: General)
Description: Video describing a what a contributor is and their role on the 2024–25 FAFSA form.
Resource Type: Video


FUTURE Act Direct Data Exchange

The FUTURE Act Direct Data Exchange will transfer contributors' federal tax information from the IRS directly into the FAFSA form.

All contributors must provide consent and approval to

  • disclose their personally identifiable information provided on the FAFSA form to the IRS for matching purposes;
  • obtain their federal tax information from the IRS via direct data exchange;
  • allow the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to use their federal tax information to determine the student's eligibility and amount of federal student aid;
  • allow ED to share their federal tax information with postsecondary institutions and state higher education agencies for use in awarding and administering financial aid; and
  • allow ED to reuse their federal tax information on another FAFSA applicant's form (e.g., if a parent has multiple dependent students or a parent's own FAFSA form).

NOTE: Contributors will still need to provide consent and approval even if they don't have an SSN, didn't file taxes, or filed taxes outside of the U.S.

IMPORTANT: If a required contributor doesn't provide consent and approval to have their federal tax information transferred into the FAFSA form, the student will not be eligible for federal student aid—even if they manually enter tax information into the FAFSA form. Information about how federal tax information will be used and the consequences of not providing consent and approval is included on the FAFSA form.

To ensure the information is secure, the federal tax information won't display on the FAFSA site or the FAFSA Submission Summary.

The direct data exchange will save time. In addition, if the student is selected for verification, they won't be asked to verify information transferred from the IRS.


Student Aid Index

The Student Aid Index (SAI) is a number that's used to determine eligibility for need-based aid. It is calculated using information that the student (and contributors, if required) provides on the FAFSA form. A student's SAI can be a negative number down to –1500.

For additional Information, review the 2024–25 FAFSA® Pell Eligibility and SAI Guide.


Dependency Status

A student's dependency status is determined by a set of FAFSA questions (preview the questions at StudentAid.gov/dependency). A dependent student must report information about their parent(s) on the FAFSA form.

Talking points:

  • A student cannot "declare" themselves independent, even if the student is self-sufficient or does not live with their parents.
  • A student's dependency status has nothing to do with whether their parents claim them on their tax returns.
  • A student can't be considered independent of their parents just because the parents refuse to provide information on the FAFSA form.

Who Counts As a Parent

Dependent students are required to report parent information on the FAFSA® form, and a parent will be identified as a contributor for these students. A parent means your legal (biological or adoptive) parent or a person that the state has determined to be your legal parent.

Is My Parent A Contributor When I Fill Out My 2024–25 FAFSA Form? graphic(Result Type: IMG)
Description: Graphic helping dependent students determine which parent(s) is considered a contributor and must provide information on the FAFSA form.
Resource Type: Infographic
Also Available in: Text version(Result Type: General)


Unusual Circumstances

Unusual circumstances are when a student is unable to contact a parent or where contact with the parent poses a risk to the student. Examples of unusual circumstances include, but are not limited to, human trafficking, legally granted refugee or asylum status, parental abandonment or estrangement, and student or parental incarceration.

Students who indicate on their FAFSA form that they have unusual circumstances will be granted provisional independent status. Students with this provisional independent status will receive an estimate of their federal student aid eligibility. A financial aid administrator will make the final determination of a student's unusual circumstances based on documentation (e.g., interviews, documented phone calls and statements from various officials, court documents, utility bills, and any other documentation deemed appropriate by the school) that the student submits to the school, and on a case-by-case basis. If a school approves a student's unusual circumstances, that school should presume the student is independent in subsequent award years unless the school is aware of a change in the student's circumstances.


Special Circumstances

Special circumstances are significant changes that contributors experience related to their financial situation.These may include the following:

  • loss of employment or financial assets
  • reduction in income
  • tuition expenses at an elementary or secondary school
  • unusual medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance

If the student or their contributor has a special circumstance, they should contact their college's or career school's financial aid office.

Special Student Populations and Circumstances: 2024–25 FAFSA® Form (June 2023)(Result Type: General)
Description: Webinar providing college access professionals with information on how students can request adjustments due to special and unusual circumstances.
Resource Type: Webinar or Audio File


Exempt From Asset Reporting

Certain FAFSA questions determine whether a student is eligible for an exemption from asset reporting. Applicants online may be able to skip asset questions if

  • the student qualifies for a maximum Federal Pell Grant;
  • their family's adjusted gross income is less than $60,000 and they don't file an IRS Form 1040 with Schedule A, B, D, E, F, H or C or, if they do file a Schedule C, their net business income isn't more than a $10,000 loss or gain; or
  • the student or their parent or spouse received a benefit under a means-tested federal benefit program during the 2022 or 2023 calendar year for the 2024–25 FAFSA form.

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After Applying: Helping Students Understand and Respond to Aid Offers

Once a student has filed the FAFSA form, the college will respond with an aid offer (sometimes called an award letter) by postal mail, email, or another means. You might find that students bring their aid offers to you for help in understanding them.

Talking point: A student doesn't have to accept all the aid offered; for instance, it's okay to ask the school to lower the amount of a loan if the student's budget allows for less borrowing.

Tip: To help students understand the different types of aid they're being offered, you might want to familiarize yourself with the aid available in your state and at the schools to which many of your students apply.

Where's My Financial Aid? video(Result Type: General)
Description: Video explaining when and how students will receive their financial aid.
Resource Type: Video


Tools for Comparing Aid Offers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a tool for comparing colleges' financial aid offers. Students can enter the school's name, cost of attendance, financial aid offer, and more in order to compare the net costs of attending several schools.

Meanwhile, hundreds of schools use the College Financing Plan, a document that sets out the school's aid offer in a simple way so the student can easily understand it and compare it to offers from other schools.

Talking point: A student should not be scared off by a college's cost of attendance. Instead, they should look at the net cost of attending the school—the amount it'll cost them to attend once financial aid is taken into account. Send your students to StudentAid.gov/complete-aid-process/comparing-aid-offers to learn about aid offers and net price.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's financial path to graduation tool(Result Type: General)
Description: Web tool helping students to determine each school's net price–their actual out-of-pocket cost.
Resource Type: Web Resource or Tool

2024–25 Undergraduate College Financing Plan Template(Result Type: PDF)
Description: Consumer tool helping undergraduate students understand and compare school aid offers. [384 KB]
Resource Type: Handout

2024–25 Graduate/Professional College Financing Plan Template(Result Type: PDF)
Description: Consumer tool helping graduate and professional students understand and compare school aid offers. [423KB]
Resource Type: Handout


Verification

The verification process aims to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the federal student aid programs. A student selected for verification will be asked to show that they reported certain FAFSA information correctly. Different students may be asked to verify different items.

If a student is selected for verification, the college(s) will contact the student to indicate what documentation the student must submit to the school and by what date. The student should be sure to provide all documentation promptly. It is unlikely that the school will process financial aid for the student until the required documentation is received.

In most cases, due to FUTURE Act Direct Data Exchange students won't have to verify income and tax information. However, the school may ask for additional documentation, including signed copies of tax returns or tax transcripts, to document information not received via the FUTURE Act Direct Data Exchange or to resolve conflicting information.

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