How do I apply for financial aid?

You should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after October 1 of your senior year in high school and after October 1 of each year you are in college. (Note, though, that the form is being updated in 2023 and will not be available until December.) By completing this application, you have applied for funds awarded by most federal and state agencies.

Applications are processed and results are sent to the colleges you listed on the FAFSA.

Your Student Aid Report (SAR) will be provided to you to confirm data. Your SAR will arrive by email if you provided a valid email address; otherwise, it will arrive by regular mail. (Beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, the Student Aid Report will be renamed the FAFSA Submission Summary.)

Your school will then provide you with an award letter outlining types of aid for which you are eligible. Further instructions will be included in the letter.

If the financial aid office has determined that you will need a loan, contact the financial aid administrator regarding the procedures to apply for federal loans.

You can also apply for other scholarships and grants for which you may be eligible outside of the college or university. For more information, talk with your high school counselor.

When her daughter was applying to colleges, Mary Crippen says that the financial aid offices provided excellent materials and online instructions about the aid process.

"I was able to complete the entire process online using the instructions without assistance from the financial aid office or paid outside consultants," Crippen says.

Crippen recommends keeping the family financial records organized for easy tax preparation. She also says it's important to keep track of deadlines for certain parts of the process.

If you are filing the FAFSA for the 2023-2024 school year, you can report 2021 income information on the 2023-2024 FAFSA.

The FAFSA can be updated with information from a completed tax return at a later date.

If you have filed your taxes before completing the FAFSA, you may be able to save time by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). This will also ensure your FAFSA tax information is accurate -- you won't have to worry about making mistakes since the IRS DRT transfers your tax information for you. (Beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, the DRT will be replaced by the Direct Data Exchange or DDX.)

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