The Parent's Guide to the FAFSA

It’s the fourth week of Financial Aid Awareness month, and as promised, this week I am going to talk about the parent’s guide to the FAFSA.  If you’re getting ready to help your child apply for federal student aid on the 2016-2017 FAFSA, here’s what you should be doing over the next few months:

Before the FAFSA

  • Learn the basics of the federal student aid programs such as grants, work-study, and loans.  Federal aid is intended to help cover educational expenses associated with the cost of attendance.
  • Read Do You Need Money for College? to familiarize yourself further with your child’s federal student aid options at
  • Encourage your child to maximize any available free money to help pay for college.  There’s information and a free scholarship search at
  • Understand who counts as a parent for purposes of filling out the FAFSA. shares the definition of “legal parent” and discusses which parent’s information should be reported on the FAFSA when the legal parents are divorced or separated and not living together.
  • You and your child should get FSA IDs.  A FSA ID is a username and password that you’ll be using to sign the FAFSA.  You and your child each need your own FSA ID-and you each need to create your own for privacy purposes. 
  • You and your child will each need to gather the following documents in preparation for the FAFSA: 2015 federal income tax returns, W-2s, and/or other records of money earned, bank statements, records of investments, records of untaxed income (if applicable), and a FSA ID to sign electronically.

Filling out the FAFSA

  • Encourage your child to fill out the FAFSA before state and school deadlines, which may fall as early as February 2016. 
  • Make sure your child goes to to fill out the application.
  • The FAFSA is your child’s application, so keep in mind when it says “you,” it means “you, the student.”
  • Be sure you or your child sees the confirmation page pop up on the screen so you’ll know the FAFSA has been submitted.
  • Depending on your state, you may see a link on the FAFSA confirmation page to your state’s financial aid application.  This will allow your child to transfer their information directly into the state application.

After the FAFSA

  • Both you and your child will receive e-mails letting you know the FAFSA has been processed.
  • Note: It takes about three days for the FAFSA to be processed and sent to the school.
  • Double check the information you reported on the FAFSA.  You can make corrections if necessary.
  • Encourage your child to read all communications from the school carefully and to supply any additional information, forms, or signatures needed by the deadlines the school sets.