This section is designed to help students and their families prepare for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. Students should review this information before starting the FAFSA.
- Gather Important Documents
- Create Your FSA ID
- Determine Your Dependency Status
- Determine Which Parent to Report on FAFSA
Gather Important Documents
Before you start the FAFSA, it's helpful to gather the following documents that apply to your unique situation. You may need to refer to the personal or financial information on these items as you complete the aid application.
Please note the 2018-2019 FAFSA requires financial data only from the 2016 tax year.
Tax return (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ)
Tax return transcript
Tax schedules C, E, K
W-2s (all jobs)
Social Security benefits statement
SNAP benefits statement
TANF benefits statement
WIC benefits statement
Child support benefits statement
Unemployment benefits statement
Value of rental properties
Social Security card
Legal custody or guardianship court orders
Foster care or orphan/ward of court documentation
DD214 veteran paperwork
Selective Service registration
Proof of Citizenship
Alien Registration Number (ARN)
fafsa.ed.gov is the free website — and the only website — you should use to apply for Federal Student Aid.
Create a FAFSA folder to keep along with your personal files. Make copies of the documents listed above in case you're selected for verification. You might need to submit copies of these documents as part of your financial aid application to the RCGC Office of Financial Aid.
Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) when completing the FAFSA. If you weren't able to successfully use the IRS DRT on your application, it may be worthwhile to request a tax return transcript ahead of time. This will be helpful if you are selected for verification, because the wait time for receiving the tax return transcripts by mail will already be accounted for.
Create Your FSA ID
Students and parents completing the FAFSA for the first time must create Federal Student Aid (FSA) IDs. Students must create a separate ID from their parents using their personal email address and information. Parents and students cannot use the same email address when creating this credential.
Students who filed the FAFSA in prior years and previously signed their applications using a four-digit PIN number must also create an FSA ID.
Do not use your high school email address (it will deactivate after graduation).
Use an email address you check frequently (Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail preferred).
Write down username, password and security questions.
Questions and answers are case sensitive. Be sure to review the answers you type by clicking the small icon within the text box to ensure you are writing the answers down exactly how you type them.
After creating your FSA ID, you will receive an email containing a six-digit security code to validate it. Check your email immediately – this security code is temporary (5 minutes or less).
For more information or to troubleshoot FSA ID issues, call the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-557-7394.
Determine Your Dependency Status
The U.S. Department of Education believes a student's family shares in the responsibility of paying for college. Therefore, students fitting the classification of "dependent" must report their parents' personal and financial information on the FAFSA.
Most students are considered dependent if age 23 or younger. All students born after January 1, 1995 are considered dependent students. Dependent students must report parent data on the FAFSA, regardless of whether or not the student lives apart from them.
The following will not qualify a student as independent:
Parents refuse to contribute to the student's education.
Parents are unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA or for verification.
Parents do not claim the student as a dependent for income tax purposes.
Student demonstrates total self-sufficiency.
Parents live abroad or in a foreign country.
A student is considered independent if he/she is:
Born before January 1, 1995.
Married as of the date he/she applies.
Will be a graduate or professional student when the award year starts.
Currently serving on active duty for purposes other than training.
Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Has dependents other than a spouse (i.e. children).
An orphan, foster child or ward/dependent of the court at any time since the
age of 13.
Emancipated minor or in legal guardianship or was when he reached the age of majority in his/her state.
Determined at any time since July 1, 2017 to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.
If you're still unsure, consult the Dependency Status Flow Chart. All you'll need to do is answer a few easy yes or no questions to gain further clarity.
Determine Which Parent to Report on FAFSA
If a student's parents are divorced or separated, he/she should answer the questions about the parent whom he/she lived more with during the previous 12 months. If this parent is remarried as of today, the student must answer the questions on the FAFSA about that parent and the person whom that parent married (the student's stepparent).
If a student lived the same amount of time with each divorced parent, the student should use the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months, or during the most recent 12 months that he/she actually received support from a parent.
The parent who reports his/her data on the FAFSA is the parent who must sign the application along with the student. This parent therefore must also have his/her own FSA ID.
Updated March 18, 2019