The FAFSA Application Process


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This article explains how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you have additional questions about how to complete an electronic or paper FAFSA application after you review this article, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). You can also find many of your questions answered at

You can complete a FAFSA in the following ways:

Throughout this article, the term "FAFSA" refers to both the online and paper version unless otherwise specified.

Applying online may be faster for the following reasons:

FAFSA Online has built-in help to guide you through the application process.

The schools you list on your application will receive your processed information faster.

FAFSA Online Filers: Here's Some Information You Need To Know About PIN Numbers:

The PIN is an electronic access code number that serves as an identifier, and works much like the personal identification number you get from your bank. Either a student or parent can obtain a PIN.

Your PIN is used by FAFSA Online filers in the following ways: to apply on either an original or a Renewal FAFSA, or to sign your FAFSA. A parent of a dependent student can also use a PIN to sign the application. You don't need a PIN to complete an original application, but you will need one for a Renewal FAFSA, and to sign either an original or Renewal FAFSA. See the section If You Submitted a FAFSA Application in the Previous Year below for further information on the Renewal FAFSA.

As previously stated, FAFSA Online applicants don't need to have a PIN to apply. Without a PIN, you would simply print out and sign a signature page. However, using a PIN is recommended, as it will result in a faster processing turnaround. (You can obtain a PIN before you begin the application process by applying at

If you apply without a PIN, but provide your e-mail address on your FAFSA Online application, you will receive an e-mail with a link to a web page where you can obtain your PIN. If you do not provide your e-mail address, you will receive your PIN number in the mail.

If you have any questions about the PIN process, you should either visit the PIN web site at or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

If You Submitted a FAFSA Application in the Previous Year:

If you applied for financial aid in the previous year, you might not have to complete an entire FAFSA for the current year. Instead, you might be able to use a Renewal FAFSA, which is available both on the web at and on paper. The Renewal FAFSA is pre-filled with data that hasn't changed from the previous year (such as the demographic information). Financial information that changes from year to year (AGI, taxes paid, asset information, etc.) will need to be added. The following types of renewal applicants will automatically receive PINs:

  • Graduate students and fifth-year undergraduates
  • Students who filed using FAFSA Online in the previous year
  • Students whose schools request that PINs be sent instead of paper Renewal FAFSAs.

Students who meet the above three requirements and who provide a valid e-mail address will receive an e-mail that will provide a link to their PIN. If they did not provide an e-mail address or the address they provided was invalid, they will receive a PIN number in the mail.


Important Note

Blindly filling out your FAFSA Application can cost you thousands of dollars in lost financial aid! Before submitting your forms, it's critical you take the necessary time to become an educated and informed financial aid consumer.

To give yourself the best possible chance of obtaining maximum funding for college, a recommended resource is "The No B.S. Guide To Getting Maximum College Financial Aid". Details can be found at

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