filing the FAFSA

Now that we’ve covered the first steps to filing the FAFSA, you should have all your documentation handy and you are ready to tackle the FAFSA. The recommended method is to complete it online. You can also fill out a paper FAFSA, but online submission is easier and much faster for both you and colleges to process. The FAFSA consists of seven sections and about 100 questions total:

  • Student Demographics
  • School Selection
  • Dependency Status
  • Parent Demographics
  • Financial Information
    • Parent Income/Assets
    • Student Income/Assets
  • Sign & Submit
  • Confirmation

Student Demographics

In the Student Demographics section you will enter straightforward personal information.  Please note that although many parents complete the FAFSA on behalf of their child, the FAFSA is completed from the perspective of the student.  When they use the terms “you” and “your” they are referring to your student, not you!  Also, be sure to enter the student’s legal name exactly as it appears on their Social Security card.  No nicknames whatsoever!

School Selection

This is where you select up to 10 colleges for the FAFSA to be sent to upon submitting your FAFSA.  If you are applying to more than 10 colleges, then there are a few options for you.

Dependency Status

This section consists of 11 questions to determine if the student is dependent or independent for financial aid purposes.  Dependent students are required to report parent data, while independent students are not.

Parent Demographics

Personal information regarding the student’s parents and their household is entered here.  The parent marital status is to be reported as of the day the FAFSA is filed.  If the custodial parent is remarried, then the step-parent’s income and asset information must be included.

Financial Information

Okay, you’ve made it to the toughest part of the application!  This is where having financial documentation readily available will really help.  A couple of tips:

  • Federal Income Tax is found on your tax return, not your W-2
  • Your Adjusted Gross Income and Total Income earned from working may not be the same figures– Review the “Help and Hints” on the right side of the FAFSA for the correct line items on your federal tax return
  • Assets are to be reported as of the day the FAFSA is filed

Sign & Submit

This is where you will enter the FSA ID for both the student and one parent.  This serves as your electronic signature.  Don’t forget to click “Submit My FAFSA Now.”


Make sure you get all the way to the confirmation page before closing out the internet browser.  The confirmation page will include a confirmation number and this will automatically be emailed to you.  Save the confirmation number and the email for your records.

Need Help?

There are a variety of resources if you are stumped on any of the FAFSA questions.  As you navigate through the application, each question has Help and Hints on the right side of the website.  If this guidance is not enough, make a phone call to the financial aid office at one of the colleges your child is applying to or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-4FED-AID.  The FSAIC even offers live web chat 7 days per week.  Additionally, many states participate in a fantastic event called College Goal Sunday at the end of January each year.  Volunteers will be at many locations throughout the participating states and will be on hand to answer any FAFSA questions you may have.  Help is available, so don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Read all the posts in this series:

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Written by Michelle Clifton
Michelle Clifton is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, she was a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Babson College and a Student Loan Officer at Rhode Island School of Design. Visit our website to learn more about Michelle Clifton.