Parents: Tips to Help Your Child Complete the 2016–17 FAFSA

2016-17 FAFSA Tips for Parents
If you’re a parent of a college-bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming. Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size? How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year? Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school:

Does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

Your child’s dependency status determines whose information must be reported on the FAFSA. Even if your child lives on his own, files his own taxes, and supports himself, he may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. If your child was born on or after January 1, 1993, then he or she is most likely considered a dependent student and will need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

Our dependency guidelines are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. If your child is considered a dependent student, it doesn’t mean you, the parent(s), are required to pay anything toward your child’s education; this is just a way of looking at everyone in a consistent manner.

Which parent’s information should I include when completing the FAFSA?

If your child needs to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help.

Who's My Parent When I Fill Out My FAFSA? Graphic

Click to enlarge

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, your household size should include parents, any dependent student(s), and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you. Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.

Do we need to wait to apply until I file my income taxes?

You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return. Deadlines in some states are before the tax filing deadline so you’ll want to ensure your child fills out his or her FAFSA as soon as possible to maximize financial aid. If you haven’t filed your taxes by the time your child completes the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed. After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information. If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available February 7, 2016.

Do I need to do this every year?

Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid. The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!

What else do I need to know before I begin?

You and your child will each need to get an FSA ID, which is made up of a username and password. It is used to confirm your identity when accessing your financial aid information and to electronically sign the FAFSA. You can save time by getting your FSA IDs prior to starting the FAFSA.

Certain information and documents are necessary to complete the FAFSA and it’s good to have them handy before you begin. Here’s a checklist to help you get ready.

Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Photo by Getty Images.


  1. If parents earn $350,000 last year, but have no money saved for college, is it worth completing the Fafsa? I am worried the school will see high income and not award scholarships to my student.

    • Yes, you should still complete the FAFSA. You never know what you’ll be eligible for until you do! Also, many scholarship programs are merit -based. Merit-based scholarships are awarded based on individual achievements, such as academic, athletic or artistic accomplishments.

  2. My son and I completed the 2016/2017 FAFSA forms, signed them and the website said we were completed. We did this on January 15, 2016. None of the colleges we listed have received the forms. Can we call somebody to ask why the forms have not been submitted to the colleges.

  3. I wanted to use this to help my students, but wasn’t sure I should since you didn’t mention prior prior year for 17-18 in response “do i have to do this every year”. Any plans to update it?

    • Hi Kathryn. Thanks for the feedback! That’s a great suggestion. We’re trying not to confuse 2016-17 FAFSA filers so we can make sure they meet current year deadlines, but we will definitely look into adding that soon!

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