How to complete the FAFSA

Above:
Two students looking at a laptop in a library study room

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA, short for FREE Application for Federal Student Aid, is the form that all US citizens or permanent residents must fill out in order to apply for federal financial aid each year. 

What information is asked for on the FAFSA?

The FAFSA will ask for the following types of information:

  • Student Demographic Information
  • Parent Information
  • Student and Parent Financial Information
  • School Selections

We have created a FAFSA checklist which highlights what you should gather in order to complete your FAFSA.

Close up of student holding a piece of paper

Information you’ll need

Information about yourself:

  • Social Security Number 
  • Alien Registration Number (if you are an eligible noncitizen like a US Permanent Resident) 
  • Your federal income tax returns (if you filed a tax return) and W-2s (if you worked) from the “prior-prior” year. For the 2019-2020 FAFSA this means the tax year 2017 
  • Sum of your cash, savings accounts, and investments 
  • Records of any untaxed income you may receive 

Information about your parent(s):

  • Social Security Number 
  • Their federal income tax returns (if they filed tax returns) and W-2s (if they worked) from the “prior-prior” year. For the 2019-2020 FAFSA this means the tax year 2017 
  • Total current balance of cash, savings, and checking accounts 
  • Net worth of investments, including real estate (but excluding primary home) 
  • Net worth of current businesses and/or investment farms 
  • Records of any untaxed income 
    • Payments to tax-deferred pension and retirement savings plans 
    • IRA deductions and payments to self-employed SEP, SIMPLE and Keogh 
    • Child support received
    • Untaxed portions of IRA distributions or pensions
    • Housing, food, and other living allowances
    • Veterans non-education benefits 
    • Workers' compensation or disability
Two students looking at a cell phone

How to apply

The FAFSA form should be filled out at www.fafsa.ed.gov or through the myStudentAid app in the Apple App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android).  You are able to complete the form after October 1st of the year prior to the one for which you are applying for aid. You, and at least one parent, should create an FSA ID at fsaid.ed.gov. Your FSA ID is used as your electronic signature for the FAFSA. You do not need to wait until October 1st to apply for your FSA ID. 

Can I see the questions that will be asked prior to filling out the FAFSA?

YES. You can print a FAFSA on the web worksheet from www.fafsa.ed.gov. This form can help you organize and answer questions prior to sitting down at your computer to complete the FAFSA. 

My parents are not US Citizens or Permanent Residents, can I still apply for federal aid?

YES. If you, the student, are a US citizen or permanent resident you are eligible for federal financial aid whether or not your parents are US citizens or permanent residents. (Note: When prompted for your parent(s) social security number on the form, you should enter all zeros.)

Gates of Harvard Yard in autumn

Other helpful resources

There are a number of ways that you can request help completing your FAFSA form. 

  • College Goal Sunday - There are numerous dates in November through February where volunteers are available at sites across the country to help you fill out your FAFSA form, for free. To find a location near you search online for “College Goal Sunday” and your state name.
  • Harvard College Griffin Financial Aid Office - You can contact our office with questions. We are open Monday through Friday , 9am to 5pm and can be reached at 617-495-1581.
  • FAFSA Hotline - The department of Education can help answer questions by calling 1-800-433-3243 . There are also “help & hints” for each question as you complete the FAFSA.