complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You should do this for each year you plan to be in college, starting on October 1st.

The FAFSA helps the U.S. Department of Education determine the amount you and your family are expected to contribute to your college expenses, and colleges determine how much aid you qualify for and what they can award you. Completing the FAFSA is just step one of the financial aid process.

FAFSA Filing Options

There are three options to complete and submit a FAFSA:
Option 1:
Online – FAFSA on the Web
English, SpanishUse the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet in Spanish and English to gather and organize your information.
Option 2: PDF FAFSA
The PDF FAFSA is available for you to print and fill out manually or is screen-fillable. Screen-fillable means you can enter your data on the screen before printing. If you choose this option you will not be able to save your data to your computer. Once printed it must be mailed for processing.
Option 3: Paper FAFSA
Request a paper FAFSA by calling the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or the TTY line at 1-800-730-8913 available for the hearing impaired.

Where to Find the FAFSA

The official FAFSA website is www.FAFSA.ED.GOV (or the shorter www.FAFSA.GOV) – not at a “.com” website. Do not pay to file a FAFSA. Remember, the first “F” in “FAFSA” stands for “FREE” – so use the official government site to submit your application.

FAFSA on the WebShow More

Applying for state and federal student aid is quicker, easier, and safer than ever!

FAFSA on the Web, along with the new Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval tool option, allows you and your parent(s) to view and securely transfer required income and tax information from your filed tax return in the IRS database directly into the FAFSA. This is a faster and easier way to submit, update, or correct the FAFSA.

If you feel safe filing taxes electronically, you should feel safe filing the FAFSA and using the IRS Data Retrieval tool. A lot of the information requested is the same, and both are on federally secured websites.

NOTE: The IRS Data Retrieval tool can be used 2 weeks after the file date for electronic tax filers and 6-8 weeks for paper tax filers. We encourage you to use the IRS Data Retrieval tool so that your FAFSA is processed quickly and efficiently by the federal government.

In order to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval tool, you must:

  • have filed a 2015 federal tax return;
  • have a valid Social Security number;
  • have a Federal Student Aid Personal Identification Number (PIN); and
  • not have changed your marital status after December 31, 2015.

Why is FAFSA on the Web and the IRS Data Retrieval the Preferred Filing Option?

  • It’s Quick. Time is reduced answering questions. Results are sent to you via e-mail by the next business day.
  • It’s Easy. One login for all transactions. Detailed help screens guide you through every question.
  • It’s Accurate. Inconsistent answers are flagged so you can correct mistakes before submitting the application. Transfer option on IRS Data Retrieval Tool populates the right questions with the correct information for accuracy.
  • It’s Safe. Encryption keeps your information safe when you send it to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and transfer tax information from the IRS.


Before You ApplyShow More

The FAFSA uses income, assets and other factors to determine your expected family contribution (EFC) . You (student) will need records of income earned in the year prior to when you will start school. You may also need records of your parents’ income information if you are a dependent student or your spouse’s information if you are married. Gather the following documents for you and your parent or spouse (if required):

Click here for the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet!

Complete Your Income Tax Returns Right Away

If you or your parents need to delay the filing of you tax returns, you are encouraged to complete the FAFSA with estimated tax information from the previous filing year to avoid completing the FAFSA too late and missing out on eligible funds. Also, you may need one of the following items:

  • 2015 Tax Return
  • 2015 Supplemental Security Income
  • 2015 W-2 Form
  • 2015 Unemployment Benefits
  • 2015 TANF and/or WIC benefit summary end of the year pay stub
  • 2015 Disability Benefits

If you complete the FAFSA based on an estimate, file your (and your parents) taxes as soon after January 1 as possible. Follow-up by making any necessary corrections to the FAFSA on the Web by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool:

Students and parents who do not use the IRS Data Retrieval tool to complete the FAFSA or to make corrections, may be selected for verification and have to provide an IRS Tax Transcript.

Get a PIN

A Personal Identification Number (PIN) is a 4-digit number that is used in combination with your Social Security Number, name, and date of birth to electronically sign the FAFSA and to access your Federal Student Aid records online.

Parents: If you are a parent and you want to electronically sign a FAFSA for your child, you need your own PIN. If you have more than one child attending college, use the same PIN to sign their applications.

To get a PIN, each student and at least one parent must complete a brief application at www.pin.ed.gov or opt for a real-time PIN at time of completing a FAFSA on the Web. The PIN Application Process consists of 3 steps:

  • Step 1: Enter Personal Information
  • Step 2: Submit Your PIN Application
  • Step 3: Receive Your PIN

Keep in mind that a real-time PIN is valid temporarily, for the purpose of signing the FAFSA on the Web until the social security number can be matched and verified. If the match fails, the PIN will be disabled and the FAFSA application will be rejected and must be corrected.

You can still complete the FAFSA on the Web without a PIN; you simply have to print out and mail in a signature page. Keep in mind processing the FAFSA using this option will take longer (6-8 weeks). Parents unable to apply for a PIN must use this option.

Keep your PIN in a safe place! You should never give your PIN to anyone, including persons assisting you to complete your FAFSA. To do so gives others access to view and change your personal records, which is dangerous and a violation of the signed agreement.

Get your PIN here!

Completing the ApplicationShow More

Here are some reminders and resources to help you complete the FAFSA.

Meet the Deadlines

  • October 1 is the first day to file the FAFSA. It is best to file as close to this date as possible; college, state and private aid deadlines may be much earlier than federal deadlines.
  • Students and parents should contact all colleges of interest to find out their priority date and definition of application deadlines (i.e. date received v. process).
  • Many colleges also require you to submit additional financial aid forms, such as the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE or their own forms. Check to see if your school does.

  • State grants and scholarships administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) are awarded until funds are depleted. Complete the FAFSA by the end of October so you do not miss out on the maximum award amounts.
  • The FAFSA must be submitted by midnight Central Time, June 30 of the filing year. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Time, September 23.
  • If you plan to attend college between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018, complete the 2017- 2018 FAFSA.

FAFSA Completion Events

If you or your parents need help completing your FAFSA, there are many free resources to help you navigate the application process. During January, February and March of each year, many high schools, colleges and community sites host Financial Aid informational sessions.

Most events feature FAFSA Completion Workshops with financial aid experts who are available to answer your questions and to help you complete your FAFSA – at no charge. Be sure to bring your tax forms, your parents’ tax forms if you’re a dependent student, and any other appropriate documentation.

What Happens After You ApplyShow More

After 2-3 days, return to FAFSA on the Web and login to check the status of your submitted FAFSA. Your personal login page will show whether the submitted FAFSA was successfully processed, missing information, or requires further action before it can be processed. Review this page carefully and follow the next steps link.

The Student Aid Report (SAR)

Once processed by the U.S. Department of Education, you will receive a summary of your FAFSA results, called a Student Aid Report (SAR). Results will be sent electronically to the schools you listed on your application.

If you have a PIN and your FAFSA has been processed, you can login at www.fafsa.gov to view SAR information regardless of whether you filed the online or paper FAFSA or provided an e-mail address or not.

The U.S. Department of Education will also send a secured link to your e-mail in 3 to 5 days if you provided an email address. If you opted for postal mail it will take 7 to 10 days to receive a copy of your SAR, and if you filed a paper FAFSA it will take two to three weeks.

Review the SAR carefully for accuracy and the notes section which highlights items that may need attention. Follow-up by making any necessary corrections to the FAFSA promptly. Make sure to keep a copy of the SAR for your records.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the number used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. This number results from the financial information you provided in your FAFSA application. Your EFC will appear at the upper right of the first page of the SAR. It is a preliminary estimate of the amount your family can contribute to college costs. The EFC is sent electronically to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (the state scholarship agency), as well as colleges that you listed on the FAFSA. Colleges use your EFC to determine your eligibility for financial aid award.

If you see an asterisk (*) next to your EFC figure, it means that your application has been selected for verification. If you see a (C) next to your EFC figure it denotes eligibility problem (s) that must be resolved before financial aid can be disbursed. Colleges are likely to ask you to submit an official transcript from the IRS, signed paper copies of your IRS forms or other information to verify the information reported on the FAFSA. Be sure to furnish this information as soon as possible after you receive the request.

Each college/university has a slightly different financial aid process. It is important to understand that the FAFSA is just step 1. Some colleges/universities may have the student fill out a different financial aid form or send in a copy the student’s taxes.

More Information

You can obtain more information from any of the three sources below: The Department of Education, ISAC, or Ladder Up. All three of these sources can help you complete your FAFSA.

Department of Education
If you have questions about the application, FAFSA on the Web, or federal student financial aid in general, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) 800-4-FED-AID (433-3243) / TTY 800-730-8913.
There is an extensive help section on the FAFSA website at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/help.htm.
And, as always, talk to your Counselor or College and Career Coach.

ISAC (Illinois Student Assistance Commission)
School Services
Phone: 866.247.2172
8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CST
Fax: 847.831.8549
E-mail: isac.schoolservices@isac.illinois.gov
Spanish-speaking counselors are also available

Hearing Impaired
Voice: 800.526.0857
TDD: 800.526.0844

Ladder Up
Phone: 312.458.9105
E-mail: LIFT@goladderup.org

And, as always, talk to your Counselor or College and Career Coach.

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