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Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the first step to taking advantage of financial aid opportunities that are available to your family, but filling out the form can be confusing if you don’t know where to begin.

A FAFSA determines if your child is eligible for money from the federal government that can be used towards his or her education. This could include a federal Pell Grant (money that does not require any repayment), work-study jobs and/or loans.

Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the first step to taking advantage of financial aid opportunities that are available to your family, but filling out the form can be confusing if you don’t know where to begin.

A FAFSA determines if your child is eligible for money from the federal government that can be used towards his or her education. This could include a federal Pell Grant (money that does not require any repayment), work-study jobs and/or loans.

Who is Eligible for Federal Aid?

Your child must meet certain basic criteria in order to receive federal money. The criteria includes items related to U.S. citizenship, financial need, readiness for college, registering for the national selective service (males age 18-25), and more. 

It’s important to fill out a FAFSA each year your child is in college or career school, even if you think that your family won’t qualify for federal aid. You might qualify, and the information from the FAFSA may be used by schools and the state to determine whether your child qualifies for additional money.

Applying for FAFSA

If your child is considered a dependent for tax purposes, you will need to provide information for the application, and you and your child will both need to electronically sign the form.

Create an FSA ID. Before you begin, you’ll need an FSA ID for both you and your child. This is a username and password that you will use to log in to complete the FAFSA application. It confirms your identity when accessing your financial aid information and electronically signing your FAFSA application. To create your FSA ID, go to studentaid.gov/fsaid.

Gather your documents and information:

Social Security numbers for both student and parent(s)

Alien registration number if student is not a U.S. citizen

Federal income tax returns, W2s or records of other income earned (note: you may be able to import this information from the IRS, so watch for that option as you complete the form)

Bank statements, and information on savings, investments and business assets

Apply online. The FAFSA form can be completed for free online at fafsa.govr. Click the “Start Here” button and follow the prompts to log in. Either you or your child can start the form.

Sign it! Make sure both you and your child electronically sign the application with your FSA IDs before you submit it.

What are the FAFSA deadlines?

The FAFSA is available each year starting Oct. 1.

The federal deadline for applications is June 30 each year.

Some aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and some schools may have earlier deadlines.

After Applying to FAFSA

After completing the FAFSA, your child will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) by email or by mail.

The SAR will contain information about your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is used by schools to determine how much federal aid your child can receive.

Review the SAR carefully – if there are any mistakes, log in to fafsa.gov, make the corrections and resubmit the application.

Your child will receive financial aid award letters from the schools listed on the application. Help your child compare the amounts and types of aid being offered from each school as he or she makes decisions about where to attend.

Contact the financial aid office if you do not understand what the school is offering your child. The financial aid office should also be your go-to for any questions about payment deadlines, the process for financial aid, how much your family will owe after all financial aid is applied, etc.

Help with the FAFSA

There are many additional resources to assist you in completing the FAFSA:

LEAP Tampa Bay volunteers work with our school district and college partners to help students fill out financial aid forms throughout the fall and spring each year. Curious about how your child’s school does at completing the FAFSA?

The FAFSA website has helpful information to guide you through the application process and answer frequently asked questions. You can also call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Your child’s college/career counselor and potential college or career school’s financial aid office are also great resources.

Does your dream career require a college degree?

Florida Shines has many resources to help you plan for college. You can research the different colleges and universities in Florida and see the degree programs they offer, including those that are offered as online programs.