• Go to www.FAFSA.ed.gov. Here, you'll be able to fill out your FAFSA form for free. You can either file your FAFSA electronically, right on the Web site, or print out a copy and mail it. There are certain sites that may try to charge you for help in filling out your FAFSA. This is generally not necessary. You shouldn't have to pay for help, and the Web site above allows you to fill out your FAFSA free of charge. This Web site also has many helpful tips and is a great resource for anyone interested in learning even more about the FAFSA application and the Federal Student Aid program.
  • When you visit the www.FAFSA.ed.gov site, you will find some helpful tips before you begin to fill out your FAFSA application. With a few questions, FAFSA will help you determine your status, as dependent or independent. Your status will help the federal government determine not only how much aid you may be eligible for but also how much aid you will likely be able to repay.
  • Next, you must set up your PIN. Your PIN will be a four digit number including elements of your social security number, your name, and your date of birth. It's essential to have a PIN not only in order to fill out your FAFSA and sign your FAFSA electronically, but also as a way to protect your privacy throughout the process. Your FAFSA PIN functions somewhat like a bank card PIN. It identifies you, and allows you to complete applications and transactions securely, including signing your FAFSA electronically, signing legal documents if you are eligible for aid, and accessing your personal records (much like you access your bank funds with a bank card and specific PIN). The easiest way to apply for a PIN is to do so directly on the www.FAFSA.ed.gov Web site. The FAFSA Web site provides you with a direct link to apply for and then receive your PIN.
  • After you have determined your dependent or independent status and received your PIN, you'll have to search for specific school codes and check for their application deadline dates. Again, the FAFSA Web site provides simple links through which you can locate the information that you need. You'll need your selected institutions' school codes in order to have your FAFSA information sent to their financial aid offices. By going directly to the FAFSA Web site, you'll be able to search for a school code. You'll be asked a few questions including the school year for which you are interested in enrolling, and FAFSA will help you find the schools in which you are interested.
  • It's essential to find out the deadlines for your FAFSA application, which depends primarily on the anticipated school year of your enrollment. The FAFSA Web site will inform you of the specific deadlines for your application.

While the FAFSA will always be your first and primary financial aid resource, many students apply for other forms of financial aid, whether through the state, the educational institution, or third-party charities. You may still need to fill out the FAFSA application to qualify for these options. There are certainly other financial aid options available, with different deadlines. Generally, applications for state and institution aid and applications for aid from private lenders have an earlier submission deadline than the FAFSA. Once again, it's best to check the FAFSA Web site as it will also list financial aid deadlines by state, if you're interested in applying for state-based aid.

If you're interested in applying for a specific type of financial aid from the school you're considering, it's best to call the financial aid office of your chosen institution directly. They will be able to give you the most accurate information regarding any aid available directly from the school. If you have any questions concerning federal, state, or third-party financial aid, your best resource will be the financial aid offices of the schools you're considering, whose financial officers will be qualified to address your questions and point you in the right direction.

There is always the possibility of allotted aid funds “running out," so the earlier you apply, the better. Filling out your FAFSA is a relatively simple process. You'll need to answer basic personal and financial questions. It's best to have your financial documents available, including tax and earnings information. The more information you have at your fingertips, the more smoothly the application process will go.