8 Steps to Filing your FAFSA

Our newest guide on filling out the FAFSA, updated in 2023 by student financial aid expert Max Fees.

It’s natural for families to feel stressed out about filling out the FAFSA, as government assistance accounts for 74% of the $185 billion total. As the parent, you play a vital role in helping your child navigate the often-confusing world of financial aid but you are not alone. Millions of students apply for federal, state, and institutional grants and scholarships through the FAFSA.

In this eight-step plan, we’ll explore each of these steps, offering practical tips and advice to ensure a smooth FAFSA experience. Before jumping in, you may find one of these checklists helpful.

1. Create an FSA ID

Creating an FSA ID is the first crucial step in the FAFSA process for both students and parents. It serves as your electronic signature and grants access to your Federal Student Aid account. Creating a FSA ID is simple and straightforward: you’ll need a valid email address, a unique username, and a strong password. 

What is an FSA ID?

Spend about 10 minutes setting up your FSA ID, ensuring you provide accurate information. It’s essential to keep your FSA ID safe and secure, as it can be used to access sensitive financial aid information. Parents should also create their own FSA IDs, which they will use to sign the FAFSA form electronically.

When creating your FSA ID, you’ll be prompted to answer several challenge questions for account security purposes. Choose questions and answers that you’ll remember easily, as you may need to access them in the future.

2. Start the FAFSA form at fafsa.gov

Once you and your parent have created FSA IDs, it’s time to begin the FAFSA form at fafsa.gov. Complete the form as soon as possible to maximize your financial aid opportunities. Upon reaching the website, select the appropriate role (student or parent) and log in using your FSA ID.

You’ll need to choose which FAFSA form to complete based on your intended college attendance dates. If you plan to attend college between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, select the 2022-23 FAFSA form. If you’ll attend between July 1, 2023, and June 30, 2024, choose the 2023-24 FAFSA form. If you’ve previously completed a FAFSA form, opt for the renewal FAFSA form to save time, as some information will be pre-filled.

Before diving into the form, it’s helpful to gather necessary documents such as your Social Security number, driver’s license (if applicable), tax records, and bank statements. Having this information readily available will make the process smoother and more efficient.

3. Create a save key

A save key is a temporary password that allows you and your parents to collaborate on the FAFSA form. This tool is especially helpful for dependent students, as it enables you and your parents to save your progress and return to the form later. The save key consists of 4-8 characters and is case-sensitive.

Creating a save key is an essential step for maintaining privacy and security while completing the FAFSA form. It allows you to share access to the form without disclosing your FSA ID or other personal information. Keep the save key in a safe place because you’ll need it every time you return to the form!

Now that you’ve got the ball rolling, you may want to check out this video to get an overview of the FAFSA. 

4. Filling out the Student Demographics Section

The Student Demographics section of the FAFSA form requires you to provide personal information, including your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Be sure not to get distracted during this section and be sure to double-check your entries for accuracy to prevent potential problems later on.

Be thorough and honest when providing these details. Keep in mind that any discrepancies between your FAFSA form and other documents might raise questions or require further clarification from your college’s financial aid office.

Also, as you complete this section, be aware that it focuses on the student’s information and not the parents’. There are always new concerns regarding who in a family should fill out the FAFSA. 

When the FAFSA refers to “parents,” it means either the student’s biological or adoptive parents. The student and both parents in a married household fill out the FAFSA. Parents should not input their personal details in this section. Maintaining clear distinctions between student and parent data is essential for a smooth financial aid process. 

5. List the colleges and universities to which your FAFSA information will be sent.

Even if you haven’t applied or received acceptance letters yet, you must identify every school you want to attend in the School Selection part of the FAFSA application. By taking this step, you make sure that each institution has your financial assistance information and can assess your aid eligibility. You can add ten schools at once.

You can search for schools by their names, cities, states, or Federal School Codes. You can find the code if you don’t know it on the school’s website or by getting in touch with their financial assistance office. You can always revise your FAFSA form later if necessary if you haven’t finalized your selection of possible colleges.

Stay on top of your deadlines!: Remember that the financial aid deadlines may vary between colleges. To increase your chances of getting aid, make sure you are aware of these dates and submit your FAFSA form accordingly.

6. Dependency questions: Staying student focused

Dependency status questions address topics such as your age, marital status, military service, and whether you have children or dependents. Answer these questions honestly and accurately.

Parents frequently overlook the fact that the student is always the source of information.  Parents must give their information if their child depends on them.

As a result, when parents come across a question beginning with “I,” they should keep in mind that the “I” in question is actually their child.  “You” also refers to the  student. When questions about parents are asked, they will refer to “your parents.”  Information about the parents goes here.

For dependent students, they will need to provide information about their parent(s) on the FAFSA form. Independent students are not required to include parental information, and their financial aid eligibility will be determined based solely on their own financial circumstances.

7. Provide your financial information

The financial information section of the FAFSA form is crucial in determining your eligibility for financial aid. To simplify this process, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to import your tax information directly into the FAFSA form. This tool helps reduce potential errors and can minimize the amount of paperwork you’ll need to submit to your school.

To use the IRS DRT, you’ll need to have filed your taxes already and meet certain eligibility criteria. Select the button to link to the IRS website and follow the prompts. If you’re eligible, your tax information will be transferred securely to the FAFSA form.

If you’re unable to use the IRS DRT, manually input your financial information using your tax records, bank statements, and other relevant documents. Ensure all entries are accurate and up-to-date to prevent issues or delays with your financial aid.

8. Sign and submit your FAFSA form

Once you’ve completed all sections and reviewed your submission of the FAFSA form,  it’s time to sign and submit it. You and your parent (if you’re a dependent student) will need to use your respective FSA IDs to electronically sign the form. 

Retrieve your FSA ID if you’ve forgotten it, and ensure that you and your parent use the correct FSA ID when signing. If you have multiple children completing the FAFSA form, remember that your parent can use the same FSA ID for each child. Choose the appropriate parent option from the available choices when signing.

After signing and reviewing your FAFSA form, submit it electronically. You’ll receive a confirmation page indicating that your submission was successful. Save or print this confirmation for your records, as it includes important information such as your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and a summary of your FAFSA data.

Congrats! You successfully submitted your FAFSA, now what? 

In some cases, if you’re unable to sign the FAFSA form electronically with an FSA ID, you can choose to mail in a signature page. To avoid delays, try to sign and submit your FAFSA form electronically whenever possible. 

Additionally, if you are curious or concerned you can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center to see if your FAFSA application was successfully submitted and processed.


In conclusion, the FAFSA form may appear overwhelming, but breaking it down into simple steps can make it a breeze. Following these eight steps and giving accurate, complete information will help you get the college financial aid you need. 

We hope this helps you assist your child completing the FAFSA to qualify for college financial aid. As a parent, it’s essential to stay informed and engaged throughout the financial aid process. Keep track of deadlines, actively explore resources, and communicate with your child and possible universities. Your help can ensure a smooth college transition.

Remember, the FAFSA form is just the beginning of the financial aid journey. Keep exploring other financial aid opportunities such as scholarships, grants, and work-study programs to help minimize the financial burden of higher education. By working together and staying informed, you and your child can successfully navigate the college financial aid landscape and pave the way for a bright and promising future.