Understanding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The FAFSA is the first step in applying for financial aid.

  • The Department of Education uses the information provided on your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for Federal student aid including grants, loans and work-study.
  • Many states and colleges use the FAFSA to award non-Federal student aid including scholarships, fellowships and private loans.

Before Completing the FAFSA

1. First, make sure you know the deadlines for your state and school. Check with your college's Financial Aid Office to find the dates that apply.

2. Next, decide how you'll file and sign the FAFSA. You can file in one of two ways:

  • Online at fafsa.gov
  • On paper, submitted through the U.S. mail

Before you file online, apply for your Personal Identification Number (PIN) at pin.ed.gov a few weeks in advance of completing the FAFSA.

Benefits of filing and signing online:

  • Online help is available to guide you through the application process.
  • Your application will be processed faster.
  • Your colleges will receive your information faster.
  • You can make changes/updates to your submitted FAFSA application.

3. Gather these documents: (If you're a dependent student, you'll need all of these for your parents as well, except their driver's licenses)

  • Your Social Security card
  • Your driver's license number
  • Your Alien Registration or permanent resident card, if applicable
  • Your W-2 Forms and other records of money earned in the prior year
  • Your (and, if married, your spouse’s) prior year’s federal income tax return
  • Your parents’ prior year’s federal income tax return (if you are a dependent student)
  • Records of prior year’s untaxed income
  • Your current business, investment and/or mortgage information, business and farm records
  • Stock, bond and other investment records for the prior year
  • Current bank statements

4. Next, print and complete a FAFSA on the Web Worksheet at fafsa.gov, which will help you get familiar with the questions and make sure you've got all of the information that will be needed.

When you're ready, file the FAFSA electronically at fafsa.gov. Or, if you're filing on paper, mail the FAFSA (pages 3 through 8) to:

Federal Student Aid Programs
P.O. Box 4691
Mount Vernon, IL 62864-0059

After You Complete the FAFSA

  • The Department of Education will analyze your information, calculate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for you and develop a Student Aid Report (SAR).
  • If you filed electronically and provided an email address, you will receive your SAR acknowledgment within 3-5 days after your FAFSA has been processed. If you did not provide an email address, your SAR will be mailed to you within 7-10 days.
  • If you filed on paper, you will receive your SAR in the mail.
  • The SAR (including the EFC) will be sent to the colleges you listed on your application.
  • Check the SAR carefully to make sure that it's accurate.
  • If you need to make corrections, go to fafsa.gov, call 800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243) or return the corrected and signed paper SAR for reprocessing.

You can check the status of your FAFSA by calling 800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243) or online at fafsa.gov.

Receiving Student Aid

Federal aid is paid to you through your college. The colleges listed on your application will send you an award letter that outlines the financial aid offer from that school.


  • To send an email that contains confidential information, please visit the Secure Message Center where there are additional instructions about whether to use Secure Email or Online Banking messaging.