FAFSA® FAQ

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What is the FAFSA®?

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a free federal form that you must complete to be eligible for:

Why complete a FAFSA®?

Completing the FAFSA is key to ensuring that you can pay for school.

  • Federal student financial assistance programs use the information you provide on your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid.
  • Many states and schools use the FAFSA to award financial aid.
What are the deadlines for applying/renewing?

Deadlines vary by school, state, program of study, and more. To ensure that any financial aid package your school offers you contains aid from as many sources as possible, apply/renew as early as you can.

Type of Aid Type of Borrower Deadline
School-based financial aid
  • Undergraduate and graduate students

Varies by school

Carefully read any school information you receive and check each school's financial aid website.

Pennsylvania State Grant

View other states' grant deadlines.

  • First-time applicants who plan to enroll in a degree program or a college transferable program at a junior college or other college or university (excludes community colleges)
  • Renewal applicants who have changes that may affect their State Grant award, such as a change in marital status or a change in income
May 1
  • First-time applicants who plan to enroll in a community college; a business, trade, or technical school; a hospital school of nursing; or a 2-year program that is not transferable to another institution
August 1
Federal financial aid
  • Undergraduate and graduate students
June 30

Even if you miss a school or state deadline, still complete and submit the FAFSA. You may be eligible to receive late awards.

What information do I need to complete the FAFSA®?

To complete the FAFSA, you need to provide information from several types of documents. We recommend you gather this paperwork before you begin the FAFSA to save time and to make sure you complete the FAFSA correctly.

First, identify what type of student—dependent or independent—you are.

  • Dependent student—You will need documentation for both you and your parents.
  • Independent student—You will need documentation for both you and your spouse (if you are married).

Personal Documents

  • Social Security number (can be found on Social Security card)
  • Driver's license number and state of issuance (if any)
  • Alien registration number or permanent residence card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

Proof of Income

  • Taxable income from W-2 forms or other records of money earned or received
  • Untaxed income, including workers' compensation; child support; housing, food and other living allowances; or veterans benefits, etc.

Use income records from the calendar year that is prior to the year you plan to attend school.

Tax Documents

  • Federal Income Tax Return (IRS tax form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) if you were required to file (Note: If you complete your FAFSA online, you have the option of automatically retrieving your income and tax data from the IRS and having it transferred into your FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is the preferred method to complete the FAFSA.)
  • Foreign tax return or a tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, or the Federated States of Micronesia or Palau

Use estimated tax data if you will not file your tax return before your earliest financial aid deadline. After you submit your tax return, correct any income or tax information that is different from what you initially submitted on your FAFSA.

Assets

  • Bank statements
  • Business and investment information, including business and farm records; stocks, bonds, and other investment records (as applicable)
How do I know if I am dependent or independent?

Among the more common errors made on the FAFSA, many people wrongly assume that dependency status for financial aid purposes is the same as that for income tax purposes.

To determine if you are dependent or independent for the purpose of financial aid, visit FAFSA on the Web.

What if my parents are separated/divorced?

If you are a dependent student, you need to provide your parents' information on the FAFSA. If your parents are separated or divorced:

  • Use the information of the parent whom you lived with the most during the past 12 months.
  • If you did not live with either parent or you lived with them equally, use the information of the parent who provided you with the most financial support during the past 12 months.
  • If the parent for whom you provide information is remarried, then you must also provide your stepparent's information.
  • It doesn't matter which parent claims you as a dependent on their taxes.
What is a PIN, and why do I need one?

A Federal Student Aid personal identification number (PIN) enables you to access your federal financial aid information online. You need a PIN to electronically sign your FAFSA and to renew your FAFSA online.

To obtain a PIN, go to the U.S. Department of Education's PIN website at pin.ed.gov. If you are a dependent student, both you and your parent require PINs.

Keep your PIN in a safe place and do not share it with anyone. This number does not change. Each year that you apply for financial aid, you can use your PIN to access and electronically sign your FAFSA.

What if I forgot my PIN?

Request a duplicate PIN at pin.ed.gov, the U.S. Department of Education's PIN website.

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Apply/Renew

How do I apply?

Apply online at FAFSA on the Web.

If you prefer, you can download a paper application (available in English or Spanish) or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.

Regardless of how you apply, the FAFSA is free.

How do I renew my FAFSA®?

Because financial and family circumstances can change from year to year, you must complete the FAFSA each year that you need aid.

  • To renew the FAFSA online—Go to FAFSA on the Web and enter your Federal Student Aid personal identification number (PIN) to access your original FAFSA. The answers from your original application are prefilled, and you need to enter only the information that has changed.
  • To renew a paper FAFSA—You must complete the entire paper application each year that you need aid.
Why fill out the FAFSA® online?
  • Fast turnaround. Your application takes less than 1 week to process (vs. 2–3 weeks for a paper application).
  • Online help. Online help is built in to FAFSA on the Web to guide you through the application process.
  • Error testing. FAFSA on the Web detects potential errors before you submit your application and gives you the opportunity to correct them.
  • Built-in "skip logic". FAFSA on the Web allows you to skip certain questions that do not apply to you.
  • Electronic transmission. The schools you list on the FAFSA will receive your processed information faster.
  • Easy renewal. It's easy to renew your FAFSA, since your application will always be prefilled with your existing data from the previous award year.
  • Link to State Grant Form. When filing the FAFSA online, you will be offered an optional link that will ask if you would like to complete the Pennsylvania State Grant Form as well. Those who "click through" will be moved directly to the online State Grant Form.
Is there a limit to the number of FAFSAs® I can submit?

Do not submit more than one FAFSA per year. In fact, if you apply online, you need to fill out the entire FAFSA only once and simply renew it every year that you need aid.

Where can I get help filling out the FAFSA®?

The following resources are available:

I never finished my FAFSA®, and I've already started school. Am I still eligible for aid?

Yes. You actually have 18 months to submit the FAFSA. It is best to submit the FAFSA as early as possible after January 1 for the academic year in which you need aid. The earlier you submit the FAFSA, the more types of aid you may be eligible to receive.

However, you have until June 30 of the following year to submit a FAFSA and receive aid. If you are in school and did not complete your FAFSA, we recommend you do so now.

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After You Apply/Renew

How will I receive my Student Aid Report (SAR)?

After your FAFSA is processed, you will receive a SAR. How you receive your SAR depends on whether you provided a valid email address when you submitted your FAFSA (either online or by paper).

  • If you completed your FAFSA online but did not provide an email address or provided an invalid email address, you will receive a SAR acknowledgment in the U.S. Mail. To make changes or updates to your SAR results, you will need to go to FAFSA on the Web.
  • If you completed a paper FAFSA and did not provide an email address or provided an invalid email address, you will receive your SAR results by U.S. Mail. To make any changes or updates, you will need to use the paper document.
  • If you completed your FAFSA online or by paper and provided a valid email address, you will receive email notification that your SAR results are available online. Go online to review your SAR results and make changes or updates.
What should I look for in my SAR?

The SAR contains a summary of the information you provided on your FAFSA and identifies your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The schools that you listed on your FAFSA will receive the information you submitted and use this information to determine your eligibility for financial aid.

Check your SAR for the following:

What to look for Details
EFC Look for your EFC amount near the top right corner of page 1.
Data errors Review the SAR carefully. Errors in your SAR can affect your EFC and your financial aid eligibility.
Verification selection

If you were selected for verification, you will find the following:

  • An asterisk (*) after your EFC amount
  • Instructions on what you need to do

Receiving your SAR does not mean that your FAFSA was accepted or that you are eligible for financial aid.

How do I make corrections/updates to my SAR?

It is important to correct any errors on your SAR. Incorrect information can impact your financial aid eligibility. To make corrections, use one of the methods below, but keep in mind the following:

  • Social Security number—If the number is wrong, you must complete a new application.
  • Financial information—Corrections are allowed only if you provided incorrect information when you submitted the FAFSA. Correct any income or tax information that was estimated when you initially submitted your FAFSA.
  • Marital status—Check with your school's Financial Aid Office if changes are needed.
Method Instructions
Online
(fastest method)
  • Log in to FAFSA on the Web to make corrections.
  • Have your Federal Student Aid PIN ready.
U.S. Mail
  • Fill out the Information Correction Form on the back of the SAR.
  • Sign the Correction Page.
  • Return it to the address indicated.
Telephone
(address and phone number changes only)
  • Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC):

    • 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)
    • 1-800-730-8913 (TTY)
  • Have your Data Release Number (DRN) ready. You can find it on the SAR in the top right corner of page 1.

If an extenuating circumstance occurs (death of a parent or spouse, loss of a job or income) after your FAFSA is processed, contact your school's Financial Aid Office. Your school may be able to re-evaluate your application.

What is Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

Your EFC is determined from the information provided on your FAFSA. Schools use the EFC to determine your financial need and package your financial aid award.

Contact your school's financial aid administrator if you have extenuating circumstances that impact your family's ability to pay for higher education, such as high medical costs or recent unemployment.

How is EFC calculated?

The federal government determines your EFC using a formula that takes into consideration family size, number of family members in college, family income, and assets.

  • The lower your EFC, the more likely it is that you will be eligible for need-based aid, such as grants and subsidized federal loans.
  • The higher your EFC, the more likely it is that you will need to find additional sources of aid that are not based on need, such as merit scholarships, savings, unsubsidized federal loans, or private education loans.
What if my family doesn't have enough money to cover my EFC?

If your EFC seems like more than you can pay, consider these options:

  • Look into getting a federal loan. (If you qualify, a subsidized federal loan is a better option than an unsubsidized federal loan.)
  • Ask your parents if they are willing to consider a PLUS loan. (A PLUS loan is a federal loan that your parents would take out in their name.)
  • Consider getting a private education loan ONLY after you have exhausted all other sources of funding.
Can I change the schools that I listed on my FAFSA®?

There are two ways to add or delete the schools. But first you need the schools' six-digit Federal School Code. Once you know the school code, you can:

  • Log in to FAFSA on the Web to add or delete a school code online.

    OR

  • Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) to add or delete a school code:

    • 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)
    • 1-800-730-8913 (TTY)
What is verification?

Verification is a process used to ensure that certain FAFSA information is accurate.

Either the U.S. Department of Education or your school may select your application for verification. Don't stress if you were chosen for verification. Some schools verify all of their students' FAFSA applications. Here are some other reasons you may have been chosen:

  • You were selected randomly.
  • Your FAFSA is incomplete.
  • Your FAFSA contains inconsistent data.
  • Your FAFSA contains estimated data.

If you were selected for verification, you should:

  • Review your SAR for messages from the U.S. Department of Education.

    If you have questions, visit your school's financial aid website first. Then contact the Financial Aid Office if you cannot find the answers.

  • Gather the requested documents.

    Provide only the requested information and be sure that all documents have the appropriate signatures.

  • Complete a verification worksheet, if required.

    You will receive specific instructions if this is the case.

  • Return all verification materials as soon as possible.

    The verification process must be complete before your school can receive your financial aid disbursement.

Note: Applicants selected for verification that retrieve and transfer their income tax return information using the IRS Data Retrieval Process—either when initially completing the FAFSA using FAFSA on the Web or through the corrections process of FAFSA on the Web—will be considered to have verified the FAFSA IRS information (adjusted gross income, taxes paid, and any of the applicable untaxed income items). However, if changes were made to the transferred information or if the institution has reason to believe that the information transferred is inaccurate, the applicant must provide other acceptable documentation. Using the IRS Data Retrieval Process, either when initially completing a FAFSA or by using the corrections functionality of FAFSA on the Web, provides applicants with the fastest, easiest, and most secure solution for meeting verification requirements.

The Financial Aid Office will compare your verification documents with the information you supplied on your FAFSA. If updates significantly change the amount of financial aid you were awarded, you will receive a notification of these revisions.

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