In order to receive any financial aid for college, you must first complete the application process. These forms are not simple documents, and the task ahead can seem daunting at first.
If you are prepared for what to expect, the process can become less painful and more straightforward.
Apply as soon as possible, as some aid is limited and may run out as the year progresses. The FAFSA deadlines have changed for the 2020 – 2021 college school year and vary by state, so check out the FAFSA Deadline list here.
The Main Forms To Complete
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
To obtain a realistic idea what you may qualify for in Federal Student Aid, you will need to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Each student’s circumstance is unique, so you can’t assume that your friends or acquaintances will have the same eligibility. Check out the FAFSA Deadlines By State list here.
- College Board’s PROFILE
To help institutions determine what Non-Federal Aid you may be eligible for, you can complete the PROFILE application at https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/.
Please note that the PROFILE only needs to be completed if the institution you plan to attend requests it.
There are fees required to complete the application, and additional fees to send the information to the colleges and institutions you are interested in.
Tips to Completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Do you have to complete the application online?
The FAFSA is available to complete by hand, but processing is much faster and easier if the document is completed online. If you prefer to complete a paper FAFSA, see a college Financial Aid Department or click on “FAFSA Filing Options” on www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Before you sit down to complete your FAFSA, you will want to gather all of the information that will be requested on the form. (If you don’t have everything with you, the FAFSA can be started and saved if you need something further, but the process will go more smoothly if you prepare in advance.)
What You Need:
- Apply for a FSA ID number at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/fsaid
- If you are considered a dependent student, your parent will also need a four digit PIN number to sign the application online (See: Dependency Status page)
- Student’s 1040 Federal Tax Form for the most recent year’s taxes and W-2s
- If you are considered a dependent student, your parent’s 1040 Federal Tax Form for the most recent year’s taxes and W-2s
- If you are married as of the day the FAFSA is completed, your spouse’s 1040 Federal Tax Form for the most recent year’s taxes (if you did not file jointly) and W-2s
- Any other records of income, taxed or untaxed (for spouse or parent as well where applicable)
- Full legal name, date of birth, and Social Security number for student (and spouse or parent where applicable)
- Bank account, business, investment, mortgage, and expense statements
- Documentation for any government benefit received (Federal or State)
- Specific amounts of any money paid on your behalf for living expense (other than by a parent for a dependent student)
- Specific amounts of any child support paid or received
- Records of scholarships or grants for college within the last year
- Unemployment records
- The Federal School Code for the institution(s) you are interested in
Luckily, many of these records are available online and can be more easily accessed.
Read our Five-Part Workshop Series on Filling Out the FAFSA:
- FAFSA PART 1: Essential FAFSA Documents
- FAFSA PART 2: FSA ID
- FAFSA PART 3: Common FAFSA Blunders
- FAFSA PART 4: FAFSA Deadlines
- FAFSA PART 5: FAFSA Frequently Asked Questions
Can you complete a FAFSA before your tax returns for the year have been completed?
Yes, the FAFSA can be completed with estimated information. You may need to make corrections once your tax information for the year has been finalized. Please note the difference between “estimating” and “guessing”. If you are unsure about the information, please collect the information first to make a good estimate. Entering information that is far from accurate will cause delays and an unnecessary need for corrections, which may further hold up your aid eligibility.
The FAFSA needs to be completed for the time frame that you plan to attend the post-secondary institution and receive aid. For example, the 2020-2021 FAFSA is applicable for July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. The 2020-2021 FAFSA deadlines have changed and depending on the state are available as soon as October 1, 2019 and are usually due by midnight, Central Time on June 30th. Check out the full list of FAFSA Deadlines by state here.
Make sure to check your institution’s deadlines for application submissions as well.
Once the FAFSA is submitted, your institution(s) will receive an institutional record of your information and you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR).
If your application is selected for verification by either the Department of Education’s Central Processing Center or by the institution, you made be asked to provide additional documentation, such as household verification, copies of W-2s or income taxes.
Tips for Completing the College Board PROFILE
The PROFILE application can be completed online as well, for faster and easier processing. Not all institutions require that this form be completed, so make sure to check with your institution. Apply as early as possible if your institution does use the PROFILE, as the application is for fund sources that may eventually run out.
Here are a couple of useful resources:
You will need to first register and then complete the PROFILE application.
Fees are required for registration and sending the application to institutions. Make sure you have all of your financial records handy (as listed above for the FAFSA). A pre-application worksheet, which is available for you after you have registered, can be used to save you time when completing the PROFILE.
Once the PROFILE is completed, retain a copy of the Acknowledgement page, which may include additional guidance for you on the next steps to take. Your chosen institution(s) will receive their need analysis report from PROFILE in approximately a week from the time the application is completed, and will then be able to determine eligibility within the institution’s variable processing time.
Inaccurate information will cause delays, so please make sure you are referring to your records carefully when completing your application.
You can follow up with your institution’s financial aid office to ensure your information has been received and is being processed.
Institutional Financial Aid Forms
Institutions also may have their own internal forms that you are required to complete. Inquire at the financial aid office of the institutions you are interested in. Many institutions now have these available on their website, with step by step instructions.