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Understanding the FAFSA application can be tricky, and knowing when to apply for financial aid for college isn’t always clear. Let us help you with some tips on making the application process easier and understanding the updated rules for financial aid applications.

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A UST financial aid counselor helps a student completing the FAFSA application - University of St. Thomas - Houston, Texas

A UST financial aid counselor helps a student complete the FAFSA.

FAFSA Deadlines: When to Apply

On October 1, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) will become available for the 2020-21 school year at For students who complete their FAFSA early, it is possible to know financial aid awards or requirements before the end of 2019.

The FAFSA application is getting a bit easier each year, but can still be confusing for families to complete. There are a few things to remember which will make the process easier:

The FAFSA IRS Data Retrieval Tool

When filing the FAFSA, students and parents can use a feature called “IRS Data Retrieval Tool” to connect with the IRS and pull tax information directly into the FAFSA form. The 2020-2021 FAFSA will be using tax information from 2018. This improvement, established last year, ensures your taxes are already filed, data is correct and ready to be used for your FAFSA.

Tips for Completing the FAFSA Application - University of St. Thomas - Houston, Texas

Good news: The FAFSA is getting a bit easier to complete each year.

Earlier FAFSA Online Application

The 2020-21 FAFSA application is aligned with the college application timeline. Many students will have the opportunity to complete admission applications and financial aid applications around the same time. UST, like many other schools, will be able to send students a financial aid award letter sooner, helping families make decisions and plans about college earlier during senior year. However, please consider that each university’s financial aid office works differently and each office may notify you about financial aid awards at different times.

As your family considers college and university choices, our financial aid calculator can help you make informed decisions. Often referred to as a “net price calculator,” this useful online financial aid tool can help you get an estimated financial aid package.

More FAFSA Tips and Financial Aid Advice

Some additional FAFSA tips to keep in mind and help simplify the process include:

Apply for the FAFSA as early as you can. The #1 and #2 questions many students and parents ask about FAFSA are “What is the FAFSA deadline?” and “When can I complete the FAFSA application?” The earlier you complete your federal student loan application the earlier you will be able to get financial aid award letters from colleges and have time to make decisions about college sooner. Send in the form as soon as possible after October 1. Do not wait until next year’s taxes are done.

Pay attention to college admissions and financial aid application deadlines. Deadlines for the FAFSA and the college can be different, so keep in mind the different application deadlines. Luckily, now with an earlier FAFSA availability, you can complete admission applications and financial aid applications around the same time.

Ask as many questions as you have. Deciding where to go to college is a huge decision, and a school’s financial aid office should be there to help! At UST our financial aid counselors are here to answer any questions you have about the financial aid process and completing the FAFSA.

Deciding where to go to college is a huge decision, and a school’s financial aid office should be there to help! UST financial aid counselors are here to answer any questions you have about the financial aid process and completing the FAFSA.

Learn more about financial aid for college and get FAFSA forms here!

Common FAFSA Questions

What is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) gives you access to federal student aid including federal grants, work-study and loans. Many colleges use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for state aid or aid from the academic institution you’ll be attending.

Who should fill out a FAFSA form?

Anyone planning to attend college should submit a FAFSA application. Even if you don’t think you’re eligible for federal or state aid, you might still be able to receive aid from your academic institution. At the University of St. Thomas, we use the FAFSA to determine financial aid to be awarded from the university.

What do I need to complete the FAFSA application?

To complete the FAFSA, you’ll need your social security number; your alien registration number (if you’re not a U.S. citizen); your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s and other income records; bank statements and records of investment; records of untaxed income; and an FSA ID. Note that you may be able to transfer your federal tax information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll need most of the above information for your parent(s) as well.

Which FAFSA form do I need to fill out?

To apply for financial for the 2020-2021 school year, you need to file a 2020-2021 FAFSA. If you plan to attend summer classes, contact your college’s financial aid office and ask which application they need for summer classes.

Where can I get the FAFSA form?

You can get the FAFSA at

What is an FSA ID?

The FSA ID is an electronic username and password that you can use to log on to the FAFSA site. With the FSA ID, you can sign your application electronically. You can also use your FSA ID to access and correct your application online. Once you create your FSA ID, you can use it to log on and renew your application next year. Create or manage your FSA ID here.

What are the deadlines for filling out the FAFSA?

For the 2020-2021 award year, the application period is from October 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021. You must submit any updates or corrections by September 15, 2021. However, some states and colleges have earlier application deadlines for state and institutional financial aid. Find your state’s deadline at You can check with your college about its deadlines.

We strongly recommend submitting your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 to make sure you don’t miss out on available aid, as it is first come, first served.

Do I need to fill out the FAFSA every year?

Yes. It’s important to keep your FSA ID secure and available so you can log on next year and reapply.

I submitted my FAFSA. What happens next?

After your submit your FAFSA, you’ll receive two emails, one letting you know your application has been received, and the second confirming your application has been processed and providing more details. Then, in three to five business days, the academic institution receives your application. If you’re applying to UST, you’ll need to check your MYSTTHOM account regularly to see if there’s anything else you need to do. If so, follow up with the financial aid office to complete your application.

For new applicants, we’ll create an award letter for you and send it in a financial aid packet to your home address. This packet will contain all the important documents and info you’ll need. For returning students, after receiving your spring grades, in the summer we’ll renew your financial aid for the following year. Check your MyStThom account to see the renewed financial aid.

What if I need to make corrections to my FAFSA application?

To make corrections to your contact info or colleges, visit the FAFSA site and navigate to the “Make a correction” page. To make major corrections, including updates to financial information and parent employment status, contact your college’s financial aid office and they’ll make the corrections for you.

Other Helpful Resources:

About the Author — Lynda McKendree

AvatarLynda McKendree is the Dean of Scholarships and Financial Aid for the University of St. Thomas, Houston.

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