How to Apply for Financial Aid
Free Application for Federal Student Aid
To receive financial aid, you must apply for it. Applying for admission to a college or university is not enough.
What is the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used to determine how much a student and their family is expected to contribute for the student's education. The difference between the total cost of attendance and the family contribution is your financial need.
NOTE: Undocumented students don't qualify for federal financial aid and are not able to submit a federal FAFSA. However, these students can submit a MN Dream Act application to be considered for state financial aid. Learn more about the MN Dream Act and how to apply for these benefits.
After your need is determined you will receive a "financial aid package" from the colleges you have applied to for you to review. This package consists of any Federal Pell Grants, Minnesota State Grants and any other financial aid offered by colleges and universities you are eligible to receive. Your financial aid may also be supplemented with loan and work study funds.
- Your eligibility to receive a Minnesota State Grant is determined by completing a FAFSA. Results are automatically sent to Minnesota colleges. When you submit your FAFSA on the Web, be sure to click on the link to Minnesota state financial aid on the FAFSA confirmation page to complete the online eligibility questionnaire for a Minnesota State Grant.
- Some scholarships offered by colleges may require separate applications through the campus financial aid office. See scholarships offered by Minnesota colleges.
Completing the FAFSA
The most important advice about completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is to READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY. Follow directions carefully as you complete your application; any errors will cause delays in processing or even the loss of financial assistance. See our helpful tips below.
You can complete the FAFSA:
Be aware of financial aid application deadlines to not miss out on receiving student aid awards. Keep in mind that each school may have its own financial aid deadline as well.
Information you need on hand before you start
If you have the following documents on hand before you start you'll complete the application more quickly. Completing the FAFSA requires similar information requested on your federal income tax forms. It's helpful to complete your taxes and have them available when completing the financial aid application.
You will need the following information to complete a FAFSA:
- Your Social Security card and driver's license.
- Your parents' Social Security number.
- W-2 Forms or other records of income earned.
- Your (and your parents, if you're dependent) Federal Income Tax Return.
- Records of other untaxed income received such as child support received, payments to tax-deferred pension plans, veteran's benefits, or military or clergy allowances.
- Current bank statements and records of stocks, bonds, and other investments.
- Business or farm records, if applicable.
- Your alien registration card (if you're not a U.S. Citizen).
Where to find help in completing the FAFSA
Most errors on the FAFSA are made because students and/or parents fail to read the instructions or don't fully understand the instructions. Please read ALL of the FAFSA instructions carefully.
If you need help:
Tips to help you complete your FAFSA accurately
- Submit the FAFSA as early as possible to maximize your chances for college scholarships. Because of the variation in state and college deadlines, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA at fafsa.ed.gov as soon as you can after October 1 (for the upcoming academic year) to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid. You and your parents should try to complete your income tax returns prior to completing the FAFSA. You can file your FAFSA using estimated tax figures, if you file early. Go to the FAFSA help line for answers on when to file and which academic year's FAFSA application to use.
- The FAFSA on the Web allows families to transfer information provided on federal tax returns from the IRS database to the FAFSA on the Web. If you filed your tax returns electronically, the tax data will be available for transfer to the FAFSA after two weeks. If you filed paper tax returns, the tax data will be available for transfer after eight weeks. If you completed your FAFSA before the IRS tax information was available for transfer, you can later transfer the IRS tax data as a FAFSA correction at fafsa.ed.gov. Transferring tax information from the IRS to your FAFSA will cut down the amount of time the college needs to verify the information supplied on your FAFSA.
- When there is no monetary value to report for an item, use -0- (zero). Do NOT leave the item blank unless you are instructed to skip a section. Blank responses can delay the application because the processor sometimes assumes you overlooked the item.
- Be very careful when reporting your social security number and name. An error in either of these can cause significant delays. Make sure you report your name on the FAFSA as it appears on your social security card. If the name on your social security card needs to be updated, do that before you complete the FAFSA. If you do report the wrong social security number on the FAFSA, it is best to complete a new FAFSA using the correct number rather than correcting the number on your Student Aid Report (SAR).
- Be careful when reporting your date of birth. This information is used for several database checks and an error can create delays. A common mistake is to report the current year instead of your year of birth.
- If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, be sure to register with the Selective Service. You can do so within the FAFSA on the Web or directly with the Selective Service at www.sss.gov. In most cases, failure to register with the Selective Service will make you ineligible for federal financial aid.
- When answering questions about degrees and grade levels avoid these three common mistakes:
- If you are pursuing a vocational program at a technical school do not select professional degree. “Professional degrees” are advanced doctoral graduate degrees to practice medicine, dentistry, law or veterinary medicine.
- High school seniors should report their grade level as first year undergraduate and not 5th year. This question is asking for your college grade level.
- High school seniors report having a degree. “Degree” is referring to a bachelor’s degree earned while a college student not a high school diploma.
- When completing Step Three to determine dependency status, you will have to provide parental information on the FAFSA if you answer “no” to all items under Step Three. If there are unusual circumstances that would prevent you from reporting parental information on your application, you should submit the FAFSA on the Web without parental data and then contact your college financial aid office to inquire about a dependency override.
- If your biological/adoptive parents are married, provide information about both parents on the FAFSA. If your biological/adoptive parents are separated/divorced, you will only have to provide information about the parent you lived with the most in the last year. If you lived with both separated/divorced parents for an equal amount of time in the last year, provide information about the parent who provided the most financial support to you. Once the correct separated/divorced parent is selected, you will also have to provide information about a stepparent if that parent has remarried.
NEW: If your biological/adoptive parents never married but are living together, report information for both parents on the FAFSA. This includes same-sex parents whether they are married or unmarried if they are both your biological and/or adoptive parents.
- If you (the student) are married, you should apply as independent and include information about your spouse. This includes same-sex couples who were married in a state that allows same-sex marriages regardless of where you now live. If you are living with your opposite or same-sex partner but are not married, you must apply as unmarried.
- When completing items about household size, be sure to read the instructions for that item on the FAFSA. Also, make sure you do NOT include parents in the number of people in your parents' household who will be college students.
- If your family has unusual circumstances (such as divorce, death of a parent, loss of employment, loss of income or benefits, homelessness, unusually high medical expenses, active military service, natural disaster, foster care placement, etc.) that might affect your need for student financial aid, please be sure to consult with the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend. The financial aid director may be able to use professional judgment to adjust your financial aid eligibility.
- Sign the FAFSA and have at least one parent whose information is provided on the form sign the FAFSA. You and your parent can apply for FSA IDs while completing the FAFSA on the Web so you can sign the form electronically. Missing signatures cause delays in processing. (Note: There are special exceptions for parents unable to sign due to active military duty or natural disaster. Your high school counselor may sign for your parents if they are not in the U.S. and can't be contacted, their address is unknown or they are physically/mentally unable to sign. This will require printing a paper signature page for FAFSA on the Web and mailing it to the FAFSA processer.)
- Before submitting your FAFSA on the Web, carefully review the information on the summary page to make sure it is correct. Once it is submitted, you will not be able to access it to make corrections until it has been processed, which takes two to three days.
- After submitting your FAFSA on the Web, you will see a confirmation page with a link to the web page for Minnesota's financial aid application. Be sure to click on the link and complete the student eligibility questionnaire used for Minnesota state financial aid programs. If you miss this link on the FAFSA on the Web page, you will receive a follow-up email from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education with a link to the state questionnaire. Once you access the questionnaire page, not all students will be required to complete it since not all colleges use the online questionnaire.
If you completed the FAFSA on the Web, be sure to click on the Minnesota link on the confirmation page so you can be considered for Minnesota state financial aid.
- After the FAFSA is submitted, you should receive an output document called the Student Aid Report or SAR. If you provided an email address on the FAFSA, you will receive an email with a link to this information within three to five days. The SAR will indicate your family's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and tell you if you are eligible for a Federal Pell Grant. Carefully review the SAR to look for any errors. If corrections need to be made, you can make corrections on-line at fafsa.ed.gov.
- Save all records and other materials used to prepare your application because you may be asked to verify that your information is correct.