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Making school transitions positive

college student filling out form

Submitting the FAFSA: The First Step to Paying for Higher Education

Antonio Alba-Meraz, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency

November 2016

English | español

There is a common belief and research has demonstrated that post-secondary education is an opportunity for people to create a better future for themselves. Most parents want their children to have a better life than they experienced, and for that reason these parents dedicate attention and resources to ensure their children succeed and graduate from high school.

But what happens after high school? By the time their children are juniors in high school, parents start asking how much colleges and other post-secondary schools cost and where they can get help paying for their children’s higher education.

Opening Doors

The first step to obtain financial assistance for post-secondary education is for you and your child to fill out and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. You should complete a FAFSA form whether your child plans to attend a four-year college or university, a two-year community or junior college, or an eligible career school — a technical, vocational, or trade school.

Completing the FAFSA form not only serves as an application for federal student aid, it also opens the door to obtaining financial assistance for higher education from other organizations, including states, colleges, career schools, and scholarship sponsors. This is true because many of these organizations use information provided on the FAFSA form to determine eligibility for their aid programs.

U.S. citizens and certain non-citizens should complete the FAFSA form because they are eligible for federal student aid in the form of grants, work-study funds, and loans. Eligible non-citizens include permanent residents with Alien Registration cards, also known as green cards. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal student aid. However, undocumented students in Minnesota may apply for state aid by submitting a Minnesota Dream Act application.

If your child is undocumented, you should consult his or her high school counselor, or the financial office of the post-secondary institution your child would like to attend, about directions to apply for student aid from non-federal sources.

Applying Online Is Easiest

It’s easiest and quickest to complete the FAFSA form online. This requires use of a Social Security Number (SSN) to obtain an FSA ID — a username and a password that lets you log on to the U.S. Department of Education website where the form is housed.

Both applicants and their parents must sign the form, which can be done online if they both have an SSN and FSA ID. However, parents without an SSN (or an FSA ID) still must download and sign a paper form called a signature page and mail it to the U.S. Department of Education. The FAFSA form is available in both English and Spanish.

Deadlines Vary

FAFSA deadlines vary for different programs. For example, to obtain federal student aid for the next school year you can start applying after October 1 of your child’s senior year in high school. Deadlines vary for completing the FAFSA form to obtain state and other types of non-federal student aid.

Finally, don’t forget to print the “confirmation page” for your records after you and your child submit a completed FAFSA form online. Doing so also confirms that you have taken the important first step toward helping your child on the road to a bright future.


Minnesota Office of Higher Education. (2012). Minnesota Dream Act Application.

Office of Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Completing the FAFSA is the first step toward getting federal aid for college, career school, or graduate school.

Related resources

Applying for College? — Learn about the application process so you can support your child in this process. English | español

The College Transition — Get tips for how you can prepare to transition your child into college.

Prepare for College: Checklists for Academic and Financial PreparationOffice of Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education — Here are steps you can take to improve your child’s chances of getting into, and affording, the school of his or her choice. español | English

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