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Guide to FAFSA

When gearing up for college, one form is mentioned over and over: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Basically, the government uses the FAFSA to calculate just how much a particular applicant’s family can be expected to contribute to his or her college costs. Therefore, it directly affects how much financial aid the government is willing to offer.

Before filling it out, remember that the FAFSA is the student’s application, not the parents’. Parents often complete this form for their child, but they can run into trouble when questions read “you” or “your,” which refer to the applicant, not necessarily whoever is filling out the form.


First, you’ll have to determine whether you are considered a “dependent student.” This can still apply under certain circumstances, even if you are living elsewhere and file your own taxes. If this is the case, you’ll need to provide an ID for both yourself and your guardian. The U.S. Department of Education provides a guide on its website to help determine if you are a dependent student.

Time period

Another factor to consider is when you will attend college. If it is between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, you will need to fill out the 2017-18 version of the FAFSA. If it is between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, you should fill out the 2018-19 version. If you will be attending during both time periods, the Department of Education recommends filling out the 2017-18 form first, waiting for it to be processed in the next few days, then going back and filling out the 2018-19 form. Alternatively, if the school session spans the two time periods, you should contact your college’s financial aid office and ask which to fill out.

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