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Guiding Mentees through FAFSA Completion

This article is meant to provide assistance with mentee FAFSA completion. Use the information below to help guide students through each step. 

Determining dependency status

Fundamental to understanding FAFSA filing is whose information you have to report on FAFSA. Most students will need to report some kind of parental info (referred to as dependent students), others won’t need to report parental info (referred to as independent students). Very few students are independent. To qualify as independent, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Be 24+ years old, married, a grad student, on active duty for non-training purposes, a veteran, a parent to children or dependents (you provide more than ½ support), in foster care after age 13, under legal guardianship (non-parental legal guardian), or considered an unaccompanied homeless youth.

Reporting parental information

For the majority of students who are dependent, you need to figure out whose info to report. The basic idea is that you report a parent if they live with you and support you. So if your parents are divorced, you report the parent whom you live with the most (if you split your time between parents, you report the parent who provides more than half of your support). If you don’t live with parents, but instead live with a guardian or someone else, you only report their info if they legally adopted you. Another good heuristic for determining who to report is SIMBA (Stepparents If Married, Biological, Adoptive).

Creating an FSA ID

The FSA ID is the username/password combination that acts as an electronic signature to sign the FAFSA. Both the mentee and their parent will need to create an FSA ID. Mentees (and counselors) should store FSA ID and login info for future use, since it will need to be utilized every year in college when filing the FAFSA again. 

Obtaining tax forms

Students should have the following forms for themselves (if they made $6,570+ in 2016) and their families: W-2, 1040, records of untaxed income like welfare/vet benefits/social security, bank statements, business and investment info. Many high schools collect and make copies of this info when the students are juniors to make sure that nothing is missing during the senior year. Note that parental forms are only necessary if the student is dependent. An independent student only needs his/her own forms. The student only needs info from the appropriate parent, as per the guidance above.


A disproportionate number of low-income students eligible for the maximum Pell and TAP awards get flagged for verification. Students who are flagged should come and speak with their counselor. Since all copies of tax forms should be on file, the process of verification shouldn’t be too cumbersome since we counselors can help send copies of the necessary documents. Calling parents/guardians to obtain additional forms may be necessary as well.

Completing FAFSA every year

The FAFSA and separate state financial aid applictions must be completed every year. The key date to note is October 1, which is when FAFSA opens; every October, students can file their FAFSA for the next school year. There is lots of aid money that is first come, first serve, so mentees should be encouraged to file as soon as possible every year. Filing in the fall is key; filing after winter break is a bit late. FAFSA is due no later than February. 

Common errors

  • Forgetting your FSA ID, or your parent's FSA ID. See "Creating an FSA ID" section.
  • Thinking you can’t file FAFSA. US citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), refugees and asylees can file FAFSA. A US citizen with undocumented parents can and should file, but they will have to print and mail the signature page instead of signing electronically.
  • Thinking you're done when FAFSA is done. Students should file their state financial aid application immediately after finishing FAFSA.
  • Resource: After FAFSA Checklist
  • Not adding all your colleges.  Students can only add 10 colleges at a time to FAFSA. After adding the first 10, they must wait for the FAFSA to process. Once they receive an email informing them that their FAFSA has been processed, they can click ‘make FAFSA corrections,’ remove some schools and add remaining ones, and then resubmit. They should repeat this process until the FAFSA is submitted for all schools they will apply to.