Loans Student Loans Financial Aid How to Apply for Financial Aid in the Early FAFSA Era By Jodi Okun Jodi Okun Facebook Twitter Jodi Okun is an expert on college financial aid and student loans—a subject she mastered over the course of 10 years as a financial aid consultant at Occidental College and Pitzer College, as well as other institutions. Now, as the founder of College Financial Aid Advisors, she helps thousands of families navigate the college financial aid process, covering everything from financial aid from grants to student loans. She has written about the financial aid process and student loans for The Balance. learn about our editorial policies Updated on August 19, 2021 Reviewed by Marguerita Cheng Reviewed by Marguerita Cheng Twitter Marguerita is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC®), Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP®), and a Chartered Socially Responsible Investing Counselor (CSRIC). She has been working in the financial planning industry for over 20 years and spends her days helping her clients gain clarity, confidence, and control over their financial lives. learn about our financial review board Fact checked by Lakshna Mehta Fact checked by Lakshna Mehta Lakshna Mehta is a writer, editor, and fact checker. She received a Master of Arts in Journalism, a Bachelor of Journalism, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from the University of Missouri. She has had the opportunity to write and edit for newspapers, magazines, and digital publications on a wide variety of topics. As a fact checker for The Balance, she verifies all facts with credible sources and updates data as needed. learn about our editorial policies Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: David Shopper / Getty Images The “early” FAFSA was online beginning October 1, 2020, for the 2021-22 academic year. When the October availability date was first introduced starting with the 2017-18 academic year, some colleges had considered moving up their financial aid application deadlines, which prompted the Department of Education to request such a move not be undertaken. Another change that was introduced was the prior-prior-year concept: using the tax return from an earlier year when filing the FAFSA. Whether this is your first or last time completing the FAFSA, here are the basic steps you will need to take. 1. Check Your Deadlines Look at the individual website for each college you are applying to and make sure that you know their exact financial aid application deadline. Allow yourself about a week to 10 days before that date and set your personal FAFSA deadlines. 2. Determine Whether You Are a Dependent Student The Office of U.S. Department of Education website, Federal Student Aid, has guidelines which help you determine whether you are a dependent or independent student. An independent student provides only their own financial information, while a dependent student provides the parents’ information as well. 3. Get a FSA ID This is your passport to online financial aid information and your electronic signature for the FAFSA. Get it now so you are one step ahead in the process. If a dependent student and a parent or parents are both providing FAFSA information, each will need a separate FSA ID. 4. Gather Information Make sure you have all your documentation in order before you begin to fill out the form so you won’t have to start and stop once you start the application. 5. Get Started When you are ready to begin, visit https://fafsa.gov/ and click on the button to start a new FAFSA form. Technically, the student is the one who is completing the form, although in reality this job is usually completed by the parents. When it initially asks for name, address and financial information, that is for the student. There is a separate section for the parents to provide their information. 6. Enter the Site If you are the student, click on “I am the student” on the left of the screen, enter your FSA ID username and password, and click “Next.” If you are the parent, click “I am a parent, preparer, or student from a Freely Associated State” on the right of the screen, then provide the student’s name, Social Security number, and date of birth, and click “Next.” 7. Create a Save Key If the student and parents will share information, you will need to create a save key. This is a temporary password that allows you to “pass” the FAFSA back and forth. It also allows you to save the FAFSA and return to it later. 8. Enter Your Personal Information Enter the student’s personal information exactly as it appears on their Social Security card. 9. Add Colleges You can ask to have your information sent to up to 10 colleges. There is no charge for this, but you might have to pay a fee when you submit an actual admissions application to each of your colleges. If you have more than 10 schools on your list, you can go back and drop/add institutions at a later point. Just make sure those you are taking off the list have received your information. You might also have to go back and add them at a later point if any of your information changes. 10. Parents There are very specific guidelines as to which parent is required to provide financial information. You cannot just say that you live with one or the other, or grandparents, unless you meet those requirements. 11. Sign and Submit Your application is not complete until it has been signed by the student and the parents. This can be done electronically using the FSA ID. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Federal Student Aid. "The FAFSA Process." National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. "Letter From the Undersecretary." Federal Student Aid. "College Students and Parents: What You Need to Know About the 2017–18 FAFSA®." Federal Student Aid. "Dependency Status." U.S. Department of Education. "Why Students and Parents Need Their Own FSA IDs." Federal Student Aid. "If I Want to Apply to More Than Ten Colleges, What Should I Do?" Federal Student Aid. "How Do I Sign My FAFSA® Form?"