The Truth about the FAFSA

Let’s play a game!

FAFSA Facts opens in a new window
FAFSA Facts Flyer

True or False? Nearly everyone who submits a FAFSA qualifies for some type of financial aid. (Answer: True!)

True or False? When it comes to financial aid, it’s best to keep all savings accounts under the student’s name. (Answer: False. The FAFSA uses a larger percentage of student income and assets when determining Expected Family Contribution (EFC), so it’s best to keep all savings accounts in your parents’ names, if possible.)

True or False? Males age 18-25 must be registered with Selective Service to receive federal financial aid. (Answer: True. Registration is available on the FAFSA.)

These and many other key facts about the FAFSA are listed on our FAFSA Facts flyer. Click here to find this flyer and other helpful resources.

Determining “Household Size” on the FAFSA

How many people live in your house? The question seems easy enough at first, but when you’re completing the FAFSA, the answer may not be that simple. First you’ll need to know if you’re a dependent or independent student. Check out our Dependency Questionnaire for help with this.

If you’re a dependent student, a parent will determine the household size, which can include:

    • You, even if you don’t live with your parent(s)
    • Your parent(s)
    • Other dependent children
    • Other people who are now living with your parents and rely on them for more than half of their support

If you’re an independent student, you can include:

    • Yourself
    • Your spouse (if applicable)
    • Your children, if you will be providing more than half of their support
    • Other people who are now living with you and rely on you for more than half of their support

Remember, the online version of the FAFSA has ‘Helpful Hint’ boxes attached to every question. Be sure to refer to the box attached to the Household Size question if you need any clarification. You can also find more detailed directions about determining your household size at

Finish the FAFSA in 5 Steps

Planning for college can sometimes feel overFinish the FAFSA in Five Stepswhelming. With so much to do and prepare, you may find that breaking the process into steps can make it much more manageable. With that approach in mind, we’re pleased to introduce you to Finish the FAFSA in Five Steps. Download this helpful brochure for a list of materials you’ll need to gather to complete the FAFSA, to learn what you can expect from the FAFSA process, and to find additional tools and resources along the way.

We also offer video tutorials in English and Spanish that show students and their parents how to finish the FAFSA in five steps. Remember, in most cases the FAFSA is required to receive financial aid for college, so the sooner you get started, the better. Good luck!


Financial Aid Resources for Spanish Speakers

As you may know, there are many students and parents for whom English is a second language. When it comes to completing the FAFSA and looking for financial aid, it’s important to find resources in Spanish. To help, we’ve compiled the following list of financial aid resources for Spanish-speaking families. and
Federal Student Aid, of the U.S. Department of Education, offers this site to provide information about all types of financial aid. Click the link at the top of the home page to convert the entire site to Spanish. Visit the resources page to find a number of college planning and financial aid publications and videos in Spanish.
Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after Jan. 1 each year, beginning their senior year of high school, to apply for federal and state financial aid for college. A link is provided at the top right of the home page to change the entire site to Spanish.
To the right of this blog post, you’ll see a link to check out our video that walks you through the five-step process of completing the FAFSA (available in both English and Spanish). is a great resource for locating scholarship websites. Check out this section, which provides information in Spanish.

Most Common FAFSA Errors

We all know how easily mistakes are made—and that it’s best to avoid them whenever possible. When filling out a complex form like the FAFSA, mistakes are common. To help you avoid a delay in application processing, watch out for the following frequent FAFSA errors.

  • Listing an incorrect Social Security Number (SSN) or driver’s license number
  • Failing to use your legal name
    • Your name must be shown on your FAFSA just as it appears on your Social Security card. Don’t enter nicknames or other variations.
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields
    • Always round to the nearest dollar.
  • Failing to register with Selective Service
    • If you’re a male age 18 to 26, you must register with Selective Service in order to receive federal financial aid. If you’re 17, you may check ‘Register Me’ and you’ll be registered on your 18th birthday.
  • Forgetting to list at least one college
    • You may send your FAFSA results to 10 different schools. Enter each school name or school code on your form before submission.
  • Leaving blank fields
    • Too many blank fields may cause miscalculations and a possible application rejection. Enter ‘0’ or ‘not applicable’ instead of leaving a blank.
  • Entering the wrong ‘federal income tax paid’ amount
    • This amount is on your income tax return forms, not your W-2. If you haven’t filed your taxes, you can estimate this amount using previous tax year information and then correct the amounts later.
  • Listing Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) as equal to total income from work
    • AGI and total income from work are not necessarily the same. In most cases, the AGI is larger than the total income from working.
  • Incorrectly filing income taxes as head of household
    • If there is an error in the head of household filing status, the school will need an amended tax return to be filed with the Internal Revenue Service before releasing aid awards.
  • Listing marital status incorrectly
    • The Department of Education wants to know your marital status on the day you sign your FAFSA. If you are in a legally-recognized same-sex marriage, you will need to provide your spouse’s information, as well.
  • Listing parent marital status incorrectly
    • If your custodial parent has remarried, you’ll need to include the stepparent’s information on the FAFSA. If you have two parents in a legally-recognized same-sex marriage, you’ll need to list both parents, one as Parent 1 and one as Parent 2. .
  • Failure to list both parents if they live together
    • If your legal parents (defined as biological or adoptive) live in the same household, you are required to list both parents on the FAFSA even if they aren’t married.

Important: As you complete the FAFSA, remember to read the information shown in the ‘Help and Hints’ boxes on the right side of each page at These boxes provide an explanation of each question to help you enter an accurate response. For further assistance, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). You may also contact any college financial aid office in your area with questions about the FAFSA process.

Do I have to file my 2014 taxes before I can submit my new FAFSA?

No, you’re not required to file your taxes before you fill out your FAFSA each year – but you do have to estimate the income information you’ll report to the Internal Revenue Service.

On the FAFSA, you’ll be asked to indicate whether you already filed, will file or will not file a tax return for 2014. If you plan to file your taxes after you complete your FAFSA, choose the ‘Will File’ option and estimate your income. Keep in mind, when you use estimated income on your FAFSA, you’ll have to resubmit your application with updated income information after you file your 2014 taxes.

If you think your 2014 income is about the same as your 2013 income, you may just want to use the figures from your 2013 return to do your estimation. But you can also estimate your income by finding your total annual earnings on your final 2014 paystub(s) and/or W-2(s). You may also need estimates for interest earned, dividends, alimony, taxable portions of Social Security, and business income. The same is true for your spouse’s income if you’re married, or for your parents’ income if you’re a dependent student (see UCanGo2’s FAFSA Dependency Questionnaire for more information.)

It’s OK to estimate your income on your FAFSA so you can submit quickly and meet important deadlines for scholarships or other types of financial aid—just make sure you submit any necessary corrections to your FAFSA later!


A Novel New Year’s Tradition

The mark of the New Year comes with many traditions. Some eat special foods, while some watch ‘the ball’ drop. Some make resolutions and others sing “Auld Lang Syne” (that is, if they know the words). However you choose to celebrate, there’s one New Year’s tradition all college students should know about.

As of Jan. 1, the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available. Students who need help paying for college should submit the FAFSA every year they need financial aid, including some scholarships. Students can complete and submit the application at, and should try to do so as soon as possible after Jan. 1 to help meet state and federal aid deadlines. Even if you think your parents make too much money or if you didn’t qualify for a particular grant last year, it’s still a good idea to complete the FAFSA. Most students qualify for some type of financial assistance, regardless of family income or assets.

Remember, the FAFSA application is reviewed and updated every year. Changes to the new application could influence your eligibility for certain programs. For help with the process, check out the tools and publications in our Resources section.

It’s Time to Round Up Your School Codes

Did you know that you can find school codes to enter on your FAFSA before you begin the application? Simply go to the home page and find the School Code Search link in the bottom left section. There you can search for every school code you need.

Including school codes on your FAFSA doesn’t mean you’re committing to any particular school. It simply allows colleges to see the data from your FAFSA so the financial aid office will be able to discuss the type(s) of aid you may qualify for at their school. The online FAFSA will accept up to 10 college codes and you must enter at least one college code on your FAFSA in order for it to process correctly.

There’s another awesome feature of the school search tool at that might interest you. Once you’ve added your codes, you can click the ‘View Selected School Information’ box and get the scoop on all the school(s) you’ve chosen. If you entered more than one code, you’ll see a table that compares each college side-by-side. This is a great resource if you’re ‘shopping’ for the school that’s best for you!