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FAFSA Tips 2020

October 1 is the first day families can access, complete, and submit the 2021-2022 FAFSA and CSS Profile. Anyone logging in sooner will be completing forms for the wrong school year. For those of you less familiar with the financial aid process than you'd like, here's some of the most important things you and your families will need to know:

  • For current seniors and transfers applying to college for the 2021-2022 school year, the family's 2019 tax returns will be required. Be sure these have already been submitted and processed.

  • It is the student's FAFSA and CSS Profile, not the parent's, though often adults complete these forms on the student's behalf.

  • It is best for students to begin the process by creating their Federal Student Aid ID. This is their digital fingerprint associated with their name and email address. Here is where they should go to create their FSA ID:

  • Anyone else who expects to access the student's FAFSA must create their own FSA ID as well, but only after the student has created theirs. If the student is less than 18-years-old, the parent will need to cosign the FAFSA and will therefore require their own FSA ID.

  • After the student has created their FSA ID, their FAFSA can be started here:

  • About 150 institutions also require the CSS Profile. The list of institutions is here, but it is always best to verify with the institution itself:

  • Often within a few hours of submitting the FAFSA, the student will receive an email that it has been successfully processed. Within a few days after that, they will receive another email containing instructions on how to access their Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR contains a crucially important number-their Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Parents overseeing the process should tell their children to forward all Department of Education emails to them, which may also include requests for further verification and documentation.

  • When beginning the FAFSA, best practice is to select the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). This will automatically populate many of the FAFSA's questions directly from the federal tax returns, making completion much simpler. Under recent Department of Education guidelines, these populated fields are shielded from the filer, though the financial aid offices will be able to view the numbers. If the DRT is not selected, financial aid offices will most likely request further verification from the filer that the numbers they have entered actually agree with their tax returns.

  • In certain circumstances, a filer will be ineligible to select the DRT. Here are the rules:

  • In cases of separation, divorce, and non-traditional families, it may be unclear who should be listed as the parent on th