FAFSA Guide

Apply for scholarships and grants, which don't need to be repaid, as well as federal student loans, by submitting the FAFSA each year you attend college.

The latest on the 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid

The new, redesigned FAFSA is finally live. Start by creating your FSA ID, which can take 1-3 days. For the new 2024-25 FAFSA, every student — along with parents, spouses or other required contributors — needs their own.

Another key change this year: the Education Department says it will not send along FAFSA eligibility information to colleges and states until sometime in March, no matter when you submit the form before then. It is also fixing a math error that could affect how much financial aid students receive, though it's unclear when those changes will take effect. Read on for additional guidance from NerdWallet's higher education team.

Key FAFSA dates and deadlines

  • Late December 2023: soft launch of the 2024-25 FAFSA.

  • When FAFSA data will process: Currently, sometime in March, per the Department of Education.

  • Your school's FAFSA deadline: different states and colleges have different FAFSA deadlines, ranging from mid-January through June. Check with the financial aid office for potential deadline changes due to this year's delays.

  • June 30, 2024: federal deadline for the 2023-24 FAFSA.

  • June 30, 2025: expected federal deadline for the 2024-25 FAFSA. But remember: financial aid is first-come, first-served.

FAFSA basics FAQ

How to complete the FAFSA

The first step in filling out the FAFSA is creating a Federal Student Aid ID. This username-password combination will allow you to fill out the form online and access information about your financial aid for years to come, including looking up any student loans you have to repay after graduation. If you’re a dependent student, your parent or guardian will need his or her own FSA ID.

Follow the instructions on StudentAid.gov to create your FSA ID.

Get organized before you fill out the FAFSA so you don’t need to search for financial information as you complete the form. Our interactive FAFSA checklist will tell you which documents you’ll want to have handy before you start.

How you fill out the FAFSA depends on your family circumstances. Our guide has tips on what financial information to provide based on your situation, and where to get additional help if you need it. Choose the option below that best applies to you for guidance on how to answer each question on the FAFSA.

Family structure (dependent students):

Family structure (independent students):

Immigration status:

To speed up the application process and avoid mistakes, transfer your 2021 federal tax return information directly into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. When you reach the financial information section of the FAFSA, click “Link to IRS” to prefill the form with your information. Beginning with the 2024-25 FAFSA, the Direct Data Exchange will replace the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

You’ll be asked to enter FAFSA school codes for up to 10 schools where you plan to apply. Starting with the 2024-25 FAFSA, you can add up to 20 schools. You can search for school codes within the online application. If you’re submitting a paper version of the FAFSA, you’re limited to four schools. Look up the school codes on StudentAid.gov.

If you haven’t decided where you’re applying by the time you fill out the FAFSA, list the schools you think are possibilities and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. If you change your mind, you can always update your FAFSA. All of the schools you list will receive your FAFSA information for their financial aid use.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Ready to submit your FAFSA? Head to FAFSA.gov, where you'll be able to create your FSA ID. You'll need your social security number and your own email address. The new form is shorter and designed to take less time: some say as little as 10 minutes, though budget more time if it's your first go or are completing forms for more than one student.

Your top FAFSA questions, answered

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