12 Steps to Filling out the FAFSA Form 2021-2022

For many people, one of the first steps to applying for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®. This form helps the government determine your eligibility for federal student aid, including subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, as well as grants and work-study opportunities.

Completing The 2021-2022 FAFSA Application

The FAFSA form 2021 may look a bit different if you’ve filled out the form in the past. That’s because of the FAFSA® Simplification Act, which was passed in December 2020 and designed to make the FAFSA more accessible for lower-income students and families. While most of these changes won’t go into effect for the upcoming FAFSA cycle, we’ll point in this article a few changes to FAFSA you will see this year.

Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA

12 Steps to Fill Out the FAFSA

FAFSA opens Oct. 1, 2020, and closes June 30, 2022 for the 2021/2022 academic year. However, FAFSA deadlines may vary depending on the states and schools you’re applying to, so you may want to check with each school to confirm their FAFSA deadline. If you’re ready to fill out FAFSA, we’ve outlined steps required in the process.

Not ready to fill out the FAFSA? You can fill out an abridged Federal Student Aid Estimator to give you an idea of what filling out the actual FAFSA will be like and to estimate your expected student aid package.

1. Required Documents Ready

Before even loading the online FAFSA form, it may be useful to have all your required documents in order to make the application process even easier. The things you’ll need may include:

•   Social security or alien registration ID

•   Drivers license or state ID

•   Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other financial documents for both yourself and your parent(s) if you’re a dependent (more on that later)

•   Bank statements

•   Untaxed income

•   Title IV Institution Codes for schools you’re applying to (again, more on that later)

•   Download app, if you plan on applying on mobile (you can also apply on desktop)

Dependent students will also need to provide similar information for their parents.

2. FSA IDs

There’s one more thing you’ll need in order to apply for FAFSA, and that’s a federal student aid ID, or FSA ID . This is simply the username or password you’ll use to log into FAFSA. Note that if you need to enter parental financial information, whoever is providing that financial information will also need to create an FSA ID .

3. Basic Information

Now that you have a FSA ID, you’re ready to log in and get started. The first few steps of FAFSA will be filling out basic information. The site or app will first ask you if you are a student, parent, or preparer helping a student fill out the FAFSA. Select which one applies to you. You should then be prompted to provide the following:

•   Your full name

•   Date of birth

•   Social security number

4. Starting the Application

Once you fill in this information, you will be asked to accept or decline the disclaimer, which details how the site will use and monitor your data. You should then be prompted to either start a FAFSA for 2021-2022 or 2020-2021. If you’re filing FAFSA for the upcoming year and are not currently enrolled in college, you should choose “Start 2021-2022 FAFSA.”

You’ll also be asked to create a save key, which is simply a four-digit code you’ll use to save your application. If you don’t finish FAFSA in one sitting, then you’ll be asked to enter your save key to continue filling it out at a later date.

5. Section 1: Student Information

Next, you’ll need to enter some information about yourself, including (but not limited to):

•   Social security number

•   Full name

•   Date of birth

•   Email address

•   Phone number

•   Home address

•   State of residence

•   Citizenship status

•   High school completion status

•   College degree level

•   If you’d like to be considered for work-study

6. Section 2: College Search Section

To send your FAFSA information to schools you’re applying to, you’ll need to find the federal school code for each school you want your information sent to. Doing so allows colleges to receive your FAFSA information and use it to provide you a financial aid package. You can find this code either on the school’s website or by searching for it on the FAFSA form itself.

7. Section 3: Dependency Status

You can either apply to FAFSA as a dependent of your parents or as an independent. If you’re a first-time college student and will graduate from high school in 2022 and/or are under 24 years old, you’ll most likely need to file as a dependent, meaning you’ll need your parents’ financial information to apply.

Section 3 of the FAFSA will help you determine if you’re an independent or dependent student. You’ll need to provide some more information about yourself, such as your marital status, if you have children or other dependents, and if you’re at risk or are currently experiencing homelessness.

Once you’ve filled out this information, FAFSA should display a message that determines whether or not you’re considered a dependent and therefore need parental financial information to determine expected family contribution (which will soon be replaced with the student aid index).

(Note that the rest of these steps assume you’re filing as a dependent. While the process of filing as an independent will be similar, you won’t be asked to provide information about your parents.)

8. Section 4: Parental Information

If you need parental information for FAFSA, you’ll include that in this section. Information you’ll need includes (but is not limited to):

•   Parental marital status

•   Date of parent’s marriage

•   Parent social security number

•   Parent name

•   Parent date of birth

•   Parent email address

•   Parent’s spousal information for all of the above

•   Household size

9. Section 5: Parent Financials

Next, you’ll need to provide some financial information about your parents. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

10. Section 6: Student financials

Now it’s time to provide some financial information about yourself. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

11. Check for errors

Once you’ve reached the end of the application, you should receive a FAFSA summary. Before hitting submit, you may want to ensure that all the information you included is accurate. Reviewing this information closely may help avoid filing a FAFSA correction later.

12. Agreement of Terms

The FAFSA requires you to accept or reject its agreement of terms. If your parent(s) also provided information because you filed as a dependent, they will also need to accept these terms in order for you to submit the application. Both you and your parent(s) will e-sign using your FSA ID. Once you’ve accepted the terms, your FAFSA will be complete.

Sample FAFSA Form for 2021/2022

Do you need some extra help? FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit is rich with resources and information. Some documents include step-by-step instructions on how to complete the FAFSA on the website and mobile app, lists of tips for filling out the FAFSA, question-and-answer documents, and more. You can also view a sample FAFSA form or a presentation on how to fill out FAFSA using the mobile app.

This student aid report may also be useful if you need to see another FAFSA sample form.

Recommended: How much FAFSA Money Can I Expect?

What’s Different About the 2021/2022 FAFSA

As previously discussed, the FAFSA Simplification Act passed last December resulted in a few changes to FAFSA. However, most of these changes won’t go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. For FAFSA 2021-2022, major changes include the following:

•   Automatic-Zero EFC: FAFSA will give all applicants with an income of $27,000 or less an EFC of zero, meaning FAFSA does not expect families to help pay for the applicant’s college. This amount increased $1,000 from last year, which set the cut-off at $26,000, so more students should be able to receive a EFC of zero.

•   Schedule 1 Questions: When populating tax information from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, the tool will automatically answer whether or not the applicant filed for a Schedule 1.

Additional changes are already scheduled for the 2022/2023 FAFSA form, such as drug convictions no longer negatively affecting one’s ability to get financial aid. Additionally, registration status for Selective Service for eligible males will also no longer be considered for financial aid. You can review the latest changes to the FAFSA on the official FAFSA website.

A Few Extra Tips

Completing the FAFSA can be an overwhelming process. For those filing for the first time, you may want to check out this 2021-2022 FAFSA guide and some FAFSA tips to make the process even easier. If you need some more help on how to fill out FAFSA 2021/2022, some tips from StudentAid.Gov include:

1.    Completing the form: It can be tempting to skip the FAFSA altogether, especially if you’re from a middle- or upper-class family and you believe you won’t be eligible for aid. However, falling for this assumption could mean leaving aid on the table.

2.    Paying attention to deadlines: As stated earlier, FAFSA 2021/2022 opens Oct. 1 and closes June 30, 2022. However, the schools you’re applying to may require you to fill out the FAFSA before June 30, so it’s best to ask each school’s financial aid office about what their FAFSA deadlines are to avoid losing out on aid.

3.    Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: This tool auto-fills your latest tax information from the IRS database. When you fill out FAFSA, you’ll have the option to either fill out your tax data manually or use the tool. Using the tool could help you avoid making costly mistakes while also saving you time.

4.    Filling out every section: Not sure how to fill out a section? FAFSA offers helpful tips throughout each section of the FAFSA form to make filling out the FAFSA easier. Additionally, not filling out a section of FAFSA could result in your form not being submitted or you receiving less financial aid.

5.    Double-checking the form: Before you submit, you may want to go back and double-check your answers to make sure everything is filled out and is accurate.

Recommended: Navigating Your Financial Aid Package

The Takeaway

Filling out the FAFSA is a great first step to pay for your dream school. This is one of the best ways of getting scholarships and grants you won’t have to pay back or government-backed loans to help you pay for college-related costs. By learning how to properly fill out the FAFSA (and then actually doing so!), you can increase your odds of getting a bigger financial aid package.

However, if your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your college expenses, you may want to consider private student loans. It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered only after other sources of funding have been considered.

SoFi’s Private Student Loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents. In just a few minutes, you can apply online for student loans and be well on your way to financing your education.

Find out more about SoFi’s Private Student Loan options.

Header photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev

FAFSA photos credit: FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit


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