How Do I apply for Federal Student Aid?


Step 1


Get free information and help from your school counselor, the financial aid office at the college or career school you plan to attend, or the U.S. Department of Education (ED) at or 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). Free help is available any time during the application process. You should never have to pay for help.


Step 2


Get a PIN, a personal identification number. A PIN lets you apply, "sign" your online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), make corrections to your application information, and more—all online. Go to


Step 3


Collect the documents needed to apply, including income tax returns and W-2 forms (and other records of income). A full list of what you need is at Tax return not completed at the time you apply? Estimate the tax information, apply, and correct information later.


Step 4


Complete the FAFSA between January and June (no exceptions to either date!). BUT, apply as soon as possible after Jan. 1 to meet school and state aid deadlines (see note at bottom of page). Apply online (the faster and easier way) by going to


Step 5


ED will send you your Student Aid Report (SAR)—the result of your FAFSA. Review your SAR, and if necessary, make changes or corrections and submit your SAR for reprocessing. Your complete, correct SAR will contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)—the number used to determine your federal student aid eligibility.


Step 6


If you are selected for verification, your school’s financial aid office will ask you to submit tax returns and other documents, as appropriate. Be sure to meet the school’s deadlines, or you will not receive federal student aid.


Step 7


Whether you’re selected for verification or not, make sure the financial aid office at the school has all the information needed to determine your eligibility.


Step 8


All students: Contact the financial aid office if you have any questions about the aid being offered.

First-time applicants: Review Award Letters from schools to compare amounts and types of aid being offered. Decide which school to attend based on a combination of (a) how well the school suits your needs and (b) its affordability after all aid is taken into account.


Note: You also might be able to get financial aid from your state government, your school or a private scholarship. Research nonfederal aid early (ideally, start in the spring of your junior year of high school). Be sure to meet all application deadlines!


There are three categories of federal student aid: grants, work- study and loans. Check with your school to find out which programs your school participates in.


Who gets federal student aid?


Eligibility for most federal student aid programs is based on financial need and several other factors. Your eligibility is determined by the information you provide on the FAFSA.


Basic eligibility requirements:


Demonstrate financial need (except for certain loans, see under "Loans" section).


Be a U.S. citizen or Eligible Noncitizen* (for most programs) with a valid Social Security number (SSN).


Be working toward a degree or certificate in an Eligible Program.


Show, by one of the following means, that you're qualified to obtain a postsecondary education:


Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate.


Pass an approved Ability-to-Benefit* (ATB) test (if you don't have a diploma or GED, a school can administer a test to determine whether you can benefit from the education offered at that school).


Meet other standards your state establishes that we have approved.


Complete a high school education in a home school setting approved under state law.


Register (if you haven't already) with the Selective Service, if you're a male between the ages of 18 and 25.


Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress* once in school. (See the complete list of eligibility requirements under "First Things First: Am I Eligible?”)

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