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Paying For College - Head Matters


6. Aid Applications

a. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The FAFSA is the first step to getting financial assistance for college. The FAFSA is the link between you and your financial aid. It helps the financial aid office at your college understand your family’s financial picture.  Plan to fill it out every year you want to be considered for aid. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not that bad!

The FAFSA in 8 easy steps

  1. Dependent vs. independent: Determine whether you are considered an independent or dependent student. If you’re a dependent student, you will have to report your parents’ information. If you need more details, visit to determine whether you are a dependent student.
  2. Get your PIN: Apply for your personal identification number (PIN) at Your parent also needs a PIN. This four-digit code allows everything to be completed electronically, including signatures. Or, you may choose to print out a signature page and mail it in. Record those PINs because you will need them each year to apply for aid using the FAFSA or to make corrections.
  3. Complete the FAFSA: Fill out the FAFSA at If you cannot complete it online, you may request a paper application from the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-Fed-Aid. However, completing it online is the quickest and most accurate method. Reference materials you and your parents need to complete your FAFSA:
Social Security Numbers (only the student is required to have a Social Security Number)
• Your alien registration or permanent resident card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
W-2 forms and other earning records from last year
• Last year’s income tax returns (IRS forms 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ)
• Records of untaxed income, such as child support received, Veterans benefits records, or worker’s compensation
• Current bank statements
• Business and farm records
• Records of stock, bonds and other investments
  1. Submit and wait for results: After your FAFSA is processed by the federal government, the information is transmitted electronically to the colleges you indicated on the FAFSA. You then receive a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR) either by email or regular mail. The SAR is a copy of the FAFSA results for your records.  Be sure you get a free email account before beginning the FAFSA at,, or some other free web mail service.
  2. Discover your Expected Family Contribution: When the federal government processes the FAFSA, it determines your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and lists it on your SAR. Your EFC is used to determine if you are eligible for federal financial aid. Many colleges use it to determine eligibility for other aid, too. This amount doesn’t change regardless of the college you plan to attend. Whether a college costs $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000, your EFC stays the same. You may receive more aid at a more expensive college because your financial need is greater.
  3. Check for errors: Check your SAR for accuracy and correct any errors online at You’ll need your PIN for this!
  4. Review Your Award Notification(s): Any college that accepted you sends an award notification telling you about the financial aid it is offering. You may not get the full amount of aid for which you are eligible based on your financial need. Federal loans can help fill the gap between what your costs are and the aid awarded.  Remember you have to be accepted by a college before it will determine your financial aid eligibility. 
  5. Make your decision: Accept an offer and keep your eyes on any associated deadlines. You’re on your way to college!
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