How to complete the FAFSA as a First-Generation College Student

Yes, it is a big deal and a great opportunity for being a first-generation college student and is a matter of pride. But first, you need to fill out the FAFSA.In this article, we have discussed the process to complete the FAFSA as a first gen college student.

Updated by Smriti Singh on 17th April 2020

First-generation college students have reason to be proud. Against daunting odds: THEY HAVE MADE IT. Today, one in three students is the first generation.

A first-generation college student is the one whose neither parent has attended college. While certainly immersed in an exciting experience, some first-generation college students receive less support from their families while attending college. Their families may not understand the demands of college work. Students may also feel added responsibility from families to be ‘the one who succeeds’ in college. This may increase the pressure the individual already experiences as a new student.

Compared to traditional students, first-generation students are more likely to come from low-income families and are expected to take longer to complete their degree programs. Low-income families have less to contribute to their student’s college costs. Families are often confused about the process of applying for federal financial aid, which opens the door to grant and scholarship availability. The application is extensive and convoluted and requires sensitive data.

The process of completing FAFSA as a First-Generation college student

The process of completing FAFSA as a First-Generation college student usually involves seven steps which are as follows,

Step 1- Take advantage of the IRS data retrieval tool

The process starts with using the IRS data retrieval tool. The FAFSA has a tool that allows it to access your family’s tax information and auto-complete parts of the form. With 108 questions on the FAFSA, the hardest part will probably be figuring out what each question is asking for, especially when it comes to questions related to taxes. Ask your parents to file electronically to speed up the process.

 Step 2- Start your FAFSA as soon as possible

Since many first-generation college students don’t have access to the same resources as other students, like a parent who has been through the process before, it’s vital to give yourself enough time to complete the FAFSA. The sooner you submit it, the more likely you are to get a generous financial aid package with gift aid i.e. scholarships, grants and other funds you don’t have to repay. Deadlines vary for federal and state funding, so students should use the student aid deadline calendar provided by FAFSA to make sure they don’t lose out on funding.

Step 3- Register for your FSA ID before you start the FAFSA

Your FSA ID is the username and password you’ll be using if you complete the FAFSA online, and it follows you across all Federal Student Aid services. You’ll need your Social Security number, and it takes the Social Security Administration one to three days to process your info if you’re new to the system, so creating an ID before you start your application will help cut down on processing time.

Step 4- Gather your documents

Check out the FAFSA checklist to make sure you have all of the required documents on hand before getting started. If you’re a dependent student you’ll need these documents from your parents, as well. The FAFSA does not ask about your parents’ citizenship status. This includes you and your parent’s:

  • FSA ID number.

  • Social Security Number. If you’re not a U.S. citizen and you don’t have an SSN, be sure to include your alien registration number along with your application. If a parent doesn’t have an SSN, input 000-00-0000.

  • Your driving license number, if you have one.

  • Federal tax information or returns from the previous year.

  • Current bank account balance records.

  • Untaxed income records (such as child support, interest income and veterans non-education benefits).

  • Use the Federal school code search tool to add schools to your application.

Step 5- Talk to your parents about their finances

First-generation students and their parents may lack experience with the financial aid process, but that doesn’t mean you should go it alone if you can help it. The FAFSA requires a lot of information about your parents or guardians, having them there with you can speed up the process. Get on the same page with your parents and get a realistic idea of your finances.

Step 6- Ask for help

The questions on the FAFSA aren’t always clear-cut, so reaching out for guidance and support is extremely important for first-gen students. Where can you go for help? We suggest calling the Federal Student Aid information center at 800-4FED-AID (800-433-3243).

There are other places first-gen students can go for help, too.  You can also use FAFSA Guide, which has information for filling it out, particularly for students who are from non-traditional families, like students who don’t depend on their parents or who have an unusual immigration status. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your guidance counselor, your prospective school’s financial aid office.

Step 7- What to do after you submit?

Applying to college is a process, so it’s important that students complete all the necessary steps along the way. After submitting your FAFSA follow up with each school to make sure it has received your documents. If you don’t see confirmation within the first two weeks, send the financial aid office an email. In case, your Student Aid Report (SAR) seems too high, at this point you have to submit further additional documents to get it adjusted according to your circumstances.

Always remember that the federal student aid process does not end when you click on “submit”. You need to fill out the FAFSA each and every year when you are in your school.