FAFSA Facts: How to Fill Out Your FAFSA Form Like a Pro


According to USA Today, the average cost of a public, in-state college is $10,116 per year. The average cost of a private college is $36,801 per year.

Thankfully, this is only the sticker price.

Many students are eligible for loans and grants, reducing the out-of-pocket cost of college per year.

However, the student needs to fill out the FAFSA form to become eligible for financial aid.

The form may seem intimidating, but don’t worry. Keep reading and we’ll tell you everything you need to know so you can breeze through the form with confidence.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA Form is a government financial aid tool that determines how much money in federal student loans you are eligible to take out.

It also determines your eligibility for a Pell Grant, which are awarded to students with financial need.

Loans will need to be repaid, but the Pell Grant does not. The federal government determines both of these figures by analyzing you and your family’s income and assets.

The FAFSA opens on October 1, 2019, and closes June 30, 2020. Please note that many schools need the FAFSA to be completed before June 30th. Check with an admissions counselor if you’re unsure when your deadline is.

You must submit a new FAFSA Form every year that you are in college.

Create an FSA ID

The first step to filling out the FAFSA Form is creating an FSA ID, which is a username and password. If the student is dependent, please note that the student and the parent will both need separate FSA IDs.

Your FSA ID will also allow you to log in to the myStudentAid app and sign loan contracts.

Gather Necessary Documents

Most first-time college students will be considered dependent. Note that the definition of dependency for the FAFSA Form differs from the dependency for taxes. If you have any doubts about your status, read this guide.

Here are the documents that the student and parent should gather before starting the FAFSA:

  • The student’s Social Security Number
  • The parents’ Social Security Number (if dependent)
  • The student’s Driver’s License Number (if applicable)
  • The student’s Alien Registration Number (if applicable)
  • Tax information for the student, the student’s spouse (if married), and the student’s parents (if dependent)
  • Additional income information like untaxed income, child support, etc. for both the student and the parents (if dependent)
  • Asset information like cash, account balances, etc.

If your parents are married or they are unmarried but live together, you must report both parents’ financial information.

If your parents are divorced, you will only report the financial information for the parent you live with the most. If you spend an equal amount of time with your parents, then you will only report the income of the parent that contributes more money to you.

If the parent you are reporting has remarried, you must also factor in the step-parent’s income in your FAFSA.

Create a Save Key

Before you start filling out the FAFSA Form, you first must create a Save Key. This is a temporary password so you can save your progress and return to the same form later.

You can share your Save Key with your parents so they can make edits onto the same FAFSA Form. This is especially helpful if the student and parents are not in the same city.

FAFSA Renewal

If you filled out a FAFSA last year, you have the option to renew your FAFSA. In your My FAFSA account, select “Renew FAFSA.” Many of the non-financial questions will be filled out for you.

If any of your information has changed from the previous year, remember to make updates on your current FAFSA.

Note that only students can start the FAFSA application, so parents can only access their student’s form after the student has created it.

Select School

If you are a high school senior, select every college that you’re thinking of applying to. You can select up to 10 schools.

These schools will automatically receive your financial information. They can use that to help determine the financial aid letter they will send you.

IRS Data Retrieval Tool

When you are on the “Parent Financials” and “Student Financials” tabs, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This will allow the IRS to automatically fill in your tax information for you.

You will be redirected to the IRS website where you will need to enter your information exactly as it appears on your tax return. Then, you will transfer that information back to the FAFSA.

The information transferred successfully if your FAFSA Form says “Transferred from the IRS.” Note that you will not be able to see or edit any numbers.

If your parents divorced during the last year or if a parent has remarried, you will have to manually calculate their tax information. 

Sign and Submit the FAFSA Form

Once the FAFSA Form is complete, then the student and parents need to sign and submit it. Note that the student must sign and submit using their FSA ID and the parents must use their own FSA ID.

If the parents have other children in college, they can use the same FSA ID for every child. At the confirmation page, the parents will be given the option to transfer their tax information onto their other children’s FAFSAs.

If your parent does not have a Social Security Number, they must print out the signature page and manually sign the FAFSA. Then, they must mail in their signature.

You’re One Step Closer to the New School Year

You can rest easy because your FAFSA form is now complete for the upcoming school year. Your college can now use your FAFSA information to give you a personalized financial aid letter.

If you want to reduce the cost of college further, you can opt to live with roommates or rent your textbooks. Save money and check out our wide selection of textbooks and eBooks.

Mastering the Personal Essay For Your College Application

Preparing for college is difficult. When the time finally arrives to start filling out those applications, you want to present the best student imaginable. Your test scores, grades, and a list of activities are all parts of your image. They are critical. After that, the personal essay is one of the most important things. It’s the personal essay that will show admission officers that you are more than a good student; this is where they learn that you are a good person.

personal essay for the college application

By the time you finish high school, the chances are that you’ve written about a dozen different personal essays and narratives. Those are conventional practice, but your future is on the line here. The school wants to know who you are. What should you tell them? You must decide what makes you who you are, and convey that honestly. Writing yourself into a 500-word text box is hard, so here are some things to consider before you begin.

What do they want?

What do they want? While personal essays are predictable in their content, different applications will ask you to hone in on various things. They might give you a prompt or ask you about a particular event in your life (e.g., Write about a time when you felt lost, afraid, etc.). Identify your purpose. It will be easier to stay focused on the task and avoid getting off topic. That is a basic rule for writing in general. Know what they expect of you, and deliver.

Make your personal essay surprising

Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t be surprising. In fact, you should always try to find something strange and unexpected. Think about who your audience is. You are writing for college admission officers who will read thousands of predictable, self-absorbed, monotonous essays. If you can be surprising, do it. Shake things up. Try to wipe the glossy sheen from their eyes and perk them up at their desk. Make them wonder who this kid is. There are several techniques you can use to spice things up. Humor is a wonderful method because they will remember that they laughed. You could choose a bizarre subject like food or beauty products. Find something quirky. Take risks. You want to stand out.

No doom and gloom attitude

That said, you will also be tempted to write about a tragedy. As will every other student that’s competing for a spot at this school. Fight the urge. If an unhappy event is integral to your identity, write about it. Be careful though. You do not want to come off as having a doom-and-gloom attitude. These essays are intended to help admission officers see the human behind the test scores — someone relatable. They aren’t looking to pity you. They are looking for someone worthy of putting time and effort into teaching, someone who can surmount obstacles and fulfill their potential. A person who cannot move on in life is not resilient enough for intense academic rigor. Do not become that person to them.

Be earnest, kind, and humble

You will also be tempted to posture. You will feel that this is your opportunity to impress someone. A pretentious vocabulary, complicated sentences, and fancy gimmicks are sure to show up in your paper if you give into this temptation. You will get so wrapped up trying to prove that you know what the word hegemony means that you will forget to sound like yourself. Keep it simple. You don’t need to sell yourself. Avoid long and complicated phrasing. Avoid adverbs. You only have about 500 words anyway. You should use them efficiently; this is an introduction. Be earnest, kind, and humble. These are qualities people like when they first meet someone. The same holds true for your admission team.

Personal essay storytelling

You’ll most likely have to tell a story, which is a good thing.  Stories are compelling and humanizing. People want to read through the end of a story. They relate to characters. You can pull someone to the edge of their seat with a solid hook, climax, and resolution. It is an ideal structure for a personal essay. Know what makes a good story. Do not try to cover more ground than you can handle. Write only about one event, one object, one person. The broader you decide to go, the less control and focus you’ll have. Particularly for these shorter essays, it is better to narrow your field of vision and zoom in. Makes sure something happens in this tale. Do not just describe yourself. It will be boring. Do not tell them that you are brave. Show them how brave you are when you give that speech or wrestle that bear. Show them who you are.

These tips lead to the most important point: relax. It’s true that there is a lot of pressure to succeed and write the best essay the world has ever seen. It is OK that you can’t do all of that right now. That’s the point. It shows that you have room to grow. The more tightly wound you are, the more you’ll get stuck in your head, and the harder it will be to reflect calmly and write something good. No one is expecting Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, or William Shakespeare. All they expect is you. Give them you.

Suggested books to help you with your personal essay for your college application:

College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay

Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps, Third Edition: Crafting a Winning Personal Statement

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice