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.

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,

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.

Federal Student Aid discontinued the IRS DRT for the 2017-18 FAFSA until it could develop enhancements to protect sensitive data between March 30, 2017 and October 1, 2017. The IRS turned off the DRT following concerns that data from the tool could be used by identity thieves to file fraudulent tax returns. The IRS DRT was made available again for use on the 2018-19 FAFSA form on when the form launched on October 1, 2017. New encryption protections have been added to the Data Retrieval Tool to further protect taxpayer information.

On June 2, 2017, Federal Student Aid announced that the DRT is now available for borrowers applying for an income-driven repayment plan on To address privacy and security concerns, the tax return information will be encrypted and hidden from borrower's view on the IRS DRT web page, as well as on the online income-driven repayment plan application.

For updates and further information about the IRS DRT, please go to: