programs and most state and institutional (direct
from the college or university) funding is through the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid, universally
referred to as the FAFSA form.
Some programs are even more demanding of
information, requiring an additional privately managed
document, the CSS/Profile. And depending on your
particular circumstances, you may also be asked to
provide specific additional information about your
investments and sources of income.
THE KEY TO THE VAULT
For most students, the quest for financial aid begins with the FAFSA.
Throughout this chapter I will be speaking primarily to the parent or guardian;
be aware, though, that the student is also responsible for filling out the portion
of the form that relates to his or her assets and earnings. In most families it
probably works like this: the parents and student work together to answer the
student-only questions, and then the parents work on the rest of the form. As
a parent you have no obligation to disclose all of your finances to your child,
but you do have to do so to the U.S. Department of Education, at least if you
want to be considered for financial aid.
You can obtain a printed copy of the form through high school guidance
counselors, from many colleges and universities, and directly from the U.S.
Department of Education. It’s a good idea to hold one in your hands and read
it to get an idea of the sort of information it demands. But when it comes
time to fill out the form, the easiest and fastest way to do so is through the
government’s online Web sites: www.fafsa.ed.gov and the more general www.
studentaid.ed.gov site, which explains many available federal programs and
offers entrance to the FAFSA site.
Applicants for financial aid can file a FAFSA by hand, filling in the
form and mailing it to the processing center. Filling in the form by hand may
require more than an hour.
But if you have access to a computer, you will save time and possibly
avoid rejection of the form due to errors by filling in the form over the Internet
through the official government portal (www.fafsa.ed.gov) and submitting it
Using the Internet has several advantages:
1. There is built-in help for every page of the form; click on the
Help icon for further explanation of questions.
2. You can fill out the form a section at a time, saving your work in
progress and returning later. Information saved in progress is
kept in storage for retrieval and editing for forty-five days. If you
do not file the form within that period, you will have to start a
3. Worksheets that are linked to the form can be used to calculate
the answers to some of the financial questions, and the
resulting numbers are automatically inserted into the FAFSA
you are working on.
4. Based on some of the answers you give to questions, the
computer will skip over areas that are not relevant to your
personal situation or your finances.
5. Before the form is completed, the computer at the other end
of the connection will proofread your form and check the math,
alerting you to omissions, errors, and contradictory answers.
6. Filing the form electronically will shorten the processing time
by as much as two weeks as well as avoid delays caused by
the postal service.
7. Once you have filed electronically, you can easily re-enter the
site to correct, change, or update information.
8. In subsequent years you can begin the process with much
of the background information automatically filled in from the
If you don’t have a computer with an Internet connection, you should
be able to arrange for use of a machine at a friend or acquaintance’s home,
at the student’s high school, or at a public library. Be aware that if you use
a public machine, there may be a risk that some of your private information
may be observed or recorded by others. One step you can take to protect data
is to shut down the Internet browser after you have completed your work in
order to clear the “cache” (pronounced “cash”) of recent work.
Deadlines and Details
The FAFSA for the coming academic year can be filed between January
1 and June 30 of the overlapping calendar year. That means, for example,
that the 2006–2007 FAFSA (which covers the academic year from July 1,
2006, through June 30, 2007) can be mailed or electronically filed no earlier
than January 1, 2006, and no later than midnight (Central Daylight Time)
on June 30 of that same year.
Corrections to forms filed on the Web must be submitted by midnight
Central Daylight Time in the middle of September; for 2006, the date was
It’s probably not a good idea to wait until the last possible date and
minute to file a FAFSA anyway, because if there is a problem with any critical
piece of information, the form may be rejected after the deadline.
Warning: Some schools may ask for all of your financial information on a
date before the final FAFSA deadline. Or the college may require that the form
be submitted and processed by a certain date, in which case you will need to
include sufficient time in advance of the submission deadline. Be sure to read all
application requirements and call financial aid offices if you have any questions.
If you file online, the computer will display a confirmation page after
you have electronically signed the form using your PIN. The confirmation
includes a code number; you should print out the page or record the number
for your records in case there is any doubt about the date of submission.
The code number is twenty-two characters long for the initial submission
and includes within it the date and time the form was received. If you file a
correction, the number expands to thirty characters in length.
There’s another number associated with a successfully submitted FAFSA.
A Data Release Number (DRN) is included on the bottom left corner of the
Student Aid Report (SAR), which you will receive several weeks after you
file the FAFSA. The DRN is necessary if you contact the Federal Student
Aid Information Center to make corrections to your mailing address or your
school list, and it is necessary in order to release FAFSA data to schools you
did not select on your original form.
If you fill out the FAFSA online but do not have a PIN or choose not
to sign the form electronically, the final step in the online process is to print
out a signature page, which will be prefilled with a student ID made up of
a code for the type and year of the application, your Social Security number,
and the first two letters of your last name. The form must be signed by the
student and at least one parent if the student is a dependent; for a renewal or
a correction of a previously filed FAFSA, the parent needs to sign the page
only if information about the parent has been changed.
However you sign and submit the form, you are agreeing to the
• Federal student financial aid will be used only to pay the cost of
attending a school of higher education.
• The student will not receive a Federal Pell Grant for more than
one school during the same academic year.
• The student or parent are not in default on a federal student
loan and do not owe a refund of a federal student grant.
• The financial aid office of the college you or the student attends
will be notified if a borrower goes into default on a federal
student loan after the FAFSA is submitted.
• You and your student give permission to the U.S. Department
of Education to verify income and other data reported on the
FAFSA with the Internal Revenue Service and other federal
And just for the record, intentionally providing false or misleading
information could be punished by a fine of as much as $20,000 or a prison
sentence or both.
Read More: How To Figuring Out The FAFSA?