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Your how-to guide to the FAFSA

Do you have “submit the FAFSA” on your to-do list but you’re not sure where to begin? We hear you! The FAFSA can be overwhelming and appear difficult at first but we are here to help you through it.

The FAFSA® (aka the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) can be submitted anytime after October 1 and before the financial aid deadline. It will take some time to complete, so don’t wait until the deadline to start.

Follow these steps and you’ll be checking it off your list in no time:

  1. Gather all the information you might need:
    • Your Social Security Number
    • Your Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen
    • Your federal income tax returns (including schedules), W-2s, and other records of money earned. You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool–if so, this can be a big time-saver!
    • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
    • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
    • WashU’s FAFSA code: 002520
    • If you are a dependent student, then you will also need most of the above information for your parent(s).
  2. Get a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID)
    Before you start the FAFSA, you will need to request an FSA ID. If you are a dependent student, your parent(s) will also need an FSA ID. Each ID requires its own, unique email address. So if your family shares an email account, you will need to start a new account to use.
    **Pro-Tip: Remember your FSA ID! Jot it down and save it somewhere secure. You will need it to renew your FAFSA application next year (that’s right–you get to submit the FAFSA every year.)
  3. Complete the form
    Carefully go through the form line by line, tab by tab, reading the questions and entering the required fields. If you have collected all the information in Step #1 this should go fairly smoothly. If you need to, you can save your work and come back to it at another time.
    **Pro-Tip: Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
    When you apply online, you will be given the option to retrieve your IRS Data to automatically populate the FAFSA. This option simplifies the application process, helps reduce errors, and lowers your chances of being selected to verify the information on your FAFSA. You will submit your tax information from two years prior, rather than your taxes for the most recent filing year, so for the 2023–24 FAFSA you will provide information from the 2021 tax year. You should be able to retrieve this information to automatically populate the corresponding questions on the FAFSA.
  4. Submit the form
    Remember that you can only list 10 colleges on the FAFSA at one time. What to do if you want to apply to more than 10 colleges.
  5. Check with your colleges about other requirements
    • Some institutions (WashU included) also require a CSS Profile to be considered for financial aid. The CSS Profile is more detailed than the FAFSA and may take more time to complete, so plan ahead.
    • Supplemental forms may be required based on information you supplied on your FAFSA.
    • The financial aid portal in your WashU Pathway keeps a personalized checklist of the forms that you need to submit.

Other Resources

NASFAA has created a comprehensive list of tips for submitting your application and avoiding common errors – find it at https://www.nasfaa.org/fafsa_tips

StudentAid.gov is another fantastic resource for both students and their supporters, and the website is available in both English and Spanish. There’s even a financial aid virtual assistant (Hi, Aidan!) who can answer your questions.

Why should you submit the FAFSA? WashU is committed to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students, but we can’t help you if we don’t have your application. Even if you don’t believe you are eligible for financial aid, you should take the time to complete the FAFSA. You might be surprised to find out that aid is available to help students like you. Also, in my years as a counselor I’ve learned that a family’s financial circumstances can change quickly. An unexpected job loss, serious illness, or a death in the family can greatly impact a student’s financial situation and ability to pay for college. By submitting the FAFSA, you are in better position to work quickly with our office to adjust your financial aid package if needed.

Still have questions? Need help with special circumstances? Is there something preventing you from being able to submit the FAFSA? Contact our office. We are here to help you. It’s free and confidential.