Pay for College
Explore college costs and plan how you'll pay for your degree or certificate.
If you need money for college, federal financial aid is your best bet. To obtain aid, you'll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). For millions of students, the FAFSA can be a gateway to grants, work-study, and student loans, not only at the federal level, but also by state and institution. Here's a quick guide to tackling the FAFSA.
Before you start
Applying online through FAFSA on the Web saves time and simplifies key parts of the process, like submitting your data to schools. The online FAFSA also offers HELP and HINTS for most questions. You can simplify things even more by having certain information ready. Here's what to gather or know ahead:
- Need a different form of the FAFSA? Here's help.
- FAFSA in Spanish — To complete the FAFSA in Spanish, go here.
- FAFSA on paper — Request a paper FAFSA by calling (800) 433-3243 or, for the hearing impaired, (800) 730-8913. You can also download a copy here. If you're an undocumented student applying for aid in Texas, you may need to complete a paper FAFSA and provide it to your school of choice. Learn more here.
- Your Social Security Number (SSN)
- Your parent's information if you are a dependent student. Find out if you are a dependent student.
- Your driver's license number, if you have one
- Tax records; you might be able to import your tax data using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The FAFSA will tell you what year's taxes to use.
- Records or amount of other funds - for example, checking and savings account balances, interest income, investments, and other assets
- Your Federal Student Aid Identification Number or FSA ID, which you'll need to sign your application electronically
- A list of schools that you're interested in attending; your FAFSA data will be sent to these schools to help them put together a financial aid package for you
How to complete
Set aside about 45 minutes to an hour to complete the FAFSA on the Web. Here are a few details to keep in mind about key steps in the process.
- Providing personal information: This is standard information you have probably provided on many other forms; name, address, email, etc...
- Choosing colleges, universities, and institutions : You can select up to ten schools to receive your FAFSA data.
- Determining dependency status: If you are considered a dependent student according to the FAFSA, you will need to provide financial information for one or both parents. Learn how your dependency status can affect completing the FAFSA.
- Reporting your parents' information: If you're a dependent student, you'll need to report your parents' information. Have questions about your family situation and how it might affect completing the FAFSA? See Providing parent information on the FAFSA.
- Providing financial data: The FAFSA will tell you which year's tax information you need.You'll need this information along with bank account balances, investments, and other assets. Already completed your tax returns for the year? You might be able to import tax information using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
Sign and submit your FAFSA
Before you submit your FAFSA, you'll need to sign it using your FSA ID. If the application was accepted, you should receive a confirmation email. Here's what happens next.
- The Department of Education processes your FAFSA data, calculates the amount of money your family can contribute to your education, and sends you back a summary called the Student Aid Report (SAR). At the same time, the Department sends your data to schools you're interested in.
- Schools use your FAFSA data to estimate your financial need and put together a package of financial aid to help you meet that need. Your schools will send you this information in financial aid award letters. Check your school's website to see when this information will be sent.
There's still work to be done after you complete the FAFSA. Here's a summary of what to do.
- Weigh your financial aid offers along with other factors in deciding where to go to college. Note that you can accept all, some, or none of the award offered you depending on your preference.
- Apply for institutional aid at the college of your choice.
- Apply for state and federal grants. The FAFSA often serves as the first step in the application process for various forms of aid, including state and federal grants. You may need to fulfill other requirements to be eligible for state aid. Find out specific Texas grant eligibility and application requirements here.
- Apply for Texas financial aid if you are classified as a Texas resident but not considered a U.S. citizen. Visit College for All Texans to complete the Texas Application for State Financial Aid, or TASFA.
- Search for scholarships. Use AIE's Scholarship Search tool to find money for college you don't have to repay.
- Has your FAFSA been chosen for verification? The Department of Education and some schools select FAFSAs to verify for their accuracy. If your FAFSA has been picked, provide requested information as soon as you can so you expedite the process and don't lose out on possible aid.
If you have questions or need guidance as you complete your FAFSA, there's plenty of help available.
- FAFSA Help on Federal Student Aid website — The Department of Education offers a comprehensive database of questions on the FAFSA process.
Your FAFSA Connection offers lots of information that can help you as you complete the FAFSA. Explore any or all of these resources.
- Are You On Track to Apply for Financial Aid?
- Ten Tips for Applying for Financial Aid
- FAFSA Fact or Fiction