Parents: Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA


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: 

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

While the federal government provides nearly $150 billion in financial aid each year, dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress. Even if your child 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, 1992, then he or she is most likely considered a dependent student and you’ll need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Who’s considered a parent when completing the FAFSA?

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

  • If the child’s legal parents (biological and/or adoptive parents) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If the child’s legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If the child’s parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
  • If the child’s parents are divorced or separated, follow these guidelines.

More information on who’s considered the parent can be found here:

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, you should include in the household size: 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?

Deadlines in some states are before the tax filing deadline so you’ll want to ensure your child files his or her FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st to maximize financial aid. You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return.  If you haven’t done 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 1, 2015.

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’ll need to get a PIN and have all the necessary documents before you begin.  Here’s a handy checklist:

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


  1. My son is a freshman in college and he did not qualify for any aid. Our status has not changed, and I do not anticipate receiving any future aid. Are we still required to complete the form again? He received some academic scholarship money, but no federal aid. Thanks!

    • Lyn,

      The FAFSA is not required by the government, although it may be required by the school. Keep in mind, when we financial aid professionals discuss aid, we also mean loans- not just grants. In short, aid is any money not paid directly out of pocket.

      If your son wishes to receive student loans then, yes, the FAFSA is required and will be required every school year. Even if no aid is anticipated I always advise students to complete it anyway. It takes but a few minutes.

  2. My daughter is a high school junior. She may be graduating early next year after first semester in December. She may enroll in an out of state college early or take classes at a local college. Can we file the FAFSA this year in case she does graduate early?

    • Hi Amy,

      Generally the FAFSA is completed during the senior year. Having a high school diploma or equivalent is discovered during the questioning.

      That being said, pay attention to the deadlines of the college(s) to which your daughter is applying. Some may have cut-offs that could prevent her entry if she graduates early.

  3. my child’s father and I live in the same house, not married I only support my son. His father only contributes to nominal household utilities. Must we still include both wages even though mine are the only ones that support the child?

  4. Hi. I am a junior in highschool this year and I was confused on when I should fill out a FAFSA application. The article states that I should fill out the FAFSA every year. Should I fill one out this year?

    • Hello Tobias,

      Since you are a High School Junior, you do not need to fill out the FAFSA. To be eligible for Financial Aid, you will begin the application process January of your Senior year. Filling out the FAFSA will make you eligible for your Fall, Spring, and (in some cases) Summer.

      If you want to receive the maximum amount of eligible aid, it is IMPORTANT to always file as soon as possible or by your prospective school’s priority date. The key phrase in financial aid is “First Come, First Serve”.

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