If you want to get financial aid to help you pay for college in the United States, you will have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is more commonly known by the acronym FAFSA. Filling out the FAFSA form will tell your university how much money you and your parents will be able to contribute to your college education.

Students who won’t be able to contribute much may be offered need-based scholarships in addition to or in place of student loans. Because of this, filling out the FAFSA yearly is essential, especially if you don’t have the means to pay for college on your own.

Tip

In order to keep your financial aid eligibility, you will need to fill out the FAFSA yearly while you are in college.

How to Apply for FAFSA

The FAFSA application is internet based. To fill it out, use a computer that is connected to the internet. Navigate on an internet browser to www.fafsa.gov or studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa to find the FAFSA form.

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To fill out the FAFSA, you will need your Social Security number or Alien Registration number (for noncitizens), an FSA ID and income information, such as a record of investments, depending on your situation. You will also need your federal income tax returns or another record of your earnings. You may be able to autopopulate that information with the IRS data retrieval tool.

Follow the directions on the screen to fill out the form. If you are having trouble, ask a parent or guardian to help you. Others who may be able to assist you in filling out the FAFSA form include your high school guidance counselor and some public librarians.

Do I Have to Fill Out the FAFSA Yearly?

Most schools require you to fill out the FAFSA every year. Completing the FAFSA yearly has several purposes.

One of the most important reasons you should fill it out every year is because your financial situation may change. If your family has been struggling financially, completing the FAFSA can be especially beneficial because it can give you more money to pay for school and more money to live on while you study.

Is Reapplying for FAFSA Easier?

Reapplying for FAFSA can be easier than the first time you applied, but it all depends on your situation. However, for the most part, the application process is pretty much the same. It even uses the same website.

To complete your FAFSA renewal, use an internet browser to navigate to www.fafsa.gov or studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa to find the FAFSA form. After you log in with your FSA ID, you will come to the same form that you filled out last year.

Since you already put in the information, the form should come prefilled with a significant amount of your personal data. As with your initial application, you may also use the IRS data retrieval tool to fill in your financial information from the previous year automatically.

What You Need to Know About Federal Financial Aid

As with all of your college application materials, it is best to complete the FAFSA as soon as you can. You can get thousands of dollars in financial aid, such as a federal Pell Grant of up to $6,095, just by filling out the FAFSA.

With federal student loans, you can borrow up to $31,000 as a dependent undergraduate. However, keep in mind that you will have to repay loans with interest, so it is better to borrow as little money as possible.

The FAFSA isn’t just a way to get federal financial aid. Schools also use the FAFSA to see if you qualify for need-based scholarships and grants. How much you’re awarded can vary depending on your financial need as indicated through the FAFSA.

About the Author

Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.