3. Complete the FAFSA

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the application for federal student assistance.  You can apply before you have been admitted to CUNY starting January 1 prior to the academic year you plan on attending.   Apply online by going to www.fafsa.gov.  Internet access is available at the financial aid office at each CUNY college. 

For free help in completing your FAFSA or to obtain a paper FAFSA you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1800-4-FED-AID (1800-433-3243). For federal student financial aid information online you can go to  www.studentaid.ed.gov 

IRS Data Retrieval Tool

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool allows you and your parents to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA.  Students and parents may transfer the data directly into their FAFSA. It's available 1-2 weeks after you file your income tax return electronically. If you are eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, it is highly recommended that you use the tool for several reasons:

  • It's the easiest way to provide your tax data
  • It's the best way of ensuring that your FAFSA has accurate tax information
  • You won't need to provide a copy of your or your parents' tax returns to your college if requested

Note: To fill out and submit your FAFSA is FREE. There are websites and services not associated with the federal government that will charge you to fill out your FAFSA. You don't have to pay anyone for assistance and there are many free resources for help, such as the Federal Student Aid Information Center by calling (800) 433-3243 and the college you plan on attending.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I apply?

You can apply for financial aid even before you've been accepted to a college. Most applicants follow this guideline:

For Fall, you should apply after January 1, but not before this date. Submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1. You do not have to wait until your taxes are complete. It is ok to estimate your income, as long as it's not very far off from the actual values. You will have an opportunity to correct any information later.  At CUNY we recommend that you do your taxes and submit your FAFSA as early as possible.   

For Spring, you should apply before November so that your financial aid application is processed before you begin classes.

Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year?

Yes. You need to apply for financial aid every year. If your financial circumstances change, you may get more or less aid. After your first year when you apply, some information from the previous year's FAFSA will be filled in. Note that your eligibility for financial aid may change, especially if you have a different number of family members in college. Renewal of your financial aid package also depends on you making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree, such as earning a minimum number of credits and achieving a minimum GPA.

Should I pay for help to fill out my FAFSA?

No, you don't need to.  If you apply using FAFSA on the Web at www.fafsa.gov, you can get online instructions for each question, and you can chat live online with a customer service representative.  Another source for free help can be found at   www.studentaid.ed.gov.  

Whether you apply online or use the paper FAFSA, You can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) with questions about the FAFSA on the Web, the paper application process or about  general federal student financial aid.  You may also visit the financial aid office at your CUNY campus for financial aid help.  

How could I check the status of my FAFSA application?

You can check the status of your FAFSA immediately after submitting it online. You can check the status of a paper FAFSA after it has been processed (roughly 7–10 days from the date mailed). Here’s how:

If your FAFSA is still being processed, you should wait a few days before checking the status again.

Is this the only financial aid application needed?

No. If you are a New York State resident then you should apply for New York State aid by filling out a TAP application at www.hesc.ny.gov .

Do I need to be admitted before I can apply for financial aid at CUNY?

No. You can apply for financial aid any time after January 1. To actually receive funds, however, you must be admitted and enrolled at CUNY.

What should I (the student) do if my family has special circumstances that aren't mentioned in the application?

Talk to your financial aid administrator in your schools' financial aid office. If your family's circumstances have changed from the base year, due to loss of employment, loss of benefits, death or divorce, your school may decide to adjust data elements used to calculate your EFC. The adjustment might increase your eligibility for student aid.

I'm not sure if I want to work during the school year. What should I enter for the questions asking if I am interested in work-study?

Some schools use this information to put together a financial aid package for you. Answering "Yes" to the question does not obligate you to accept a work-study position. It usually just means that the school will offer you work-study as part of your aid package if you qualify. If you indicate on the application that you are interested in work-study, you can change your mind and not accept the work-study later.

If I live with an aunt, uncle, or grandparent, should that relative's income be reported instead of parental information?

Only if the relative is your adoptive parent. Dependent students can be considered dependent only on their parent(s) and must report only parental information on the FAFSA. You must report any cash support given by relatives, but not in-kind support (such as food and housing) from relatives.

What if I live with a girlfriend or boyfriend who pays the rent?

You should not report any information for a friend or roommate unless the two of you are actually married or are considered to have a common-law marriage under state law. You must report any cash support given by the friend as untaxed income but should not report in-kind support (such as food). You would have to report as untaxed income the rent the roommate paid on your behalf.

When is student aid considered income when filling out your FAFSA?

Generally, grants, scholarships and federal work-study that do not exceed your cost of attendance are not considered income while filling out your FAFSA. Student aid is considered income when its taxable student grant and scholarship aid such as fellowships and assistantships which are reported to the IRS in your parents or your adjusted gross income. 

If I am in the National Guard or am an active duty military member, am I considered a veteran for purposes of filling out the FAFSA?

If you were a member of the National Guard or were a Reservist called to active duty for purposes other than training and were released under a condition other than dishonorable, you are considered a veteran for FAFSA purposes.

I'll be filing a tax return this year but I probably won't get around to it until April. How should I answer the financial questions? Should I wait to fill out this form until after I've filed my tax return?

Ideally, you should complete a FAFSA after you've done your tax return. If you haven't submitted your tax return, you should calculate your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and taxes paid using the instructions for IRS Form 1040. You can get the instructions and the form at a public library or download them in Portable Document Format (PDF) from www.irs.gov/formspubs/index.html Keep in mind that if you submit your application before you complete a tax return, you will have to make corrections later if your income or tax information isn't accurate. You will also need to return any federal student aid you received based upon incorrect information.

If my parents are divorced, whose information do I need?

The parent with whom you lived the most during the 12 months preceding the date you completed the FAFSA. It does not make a difference which parent claims you as a dependent for tax purposes. If you did not live with either parent or lived equally with each parent, the parental information must be provided for the parent from whom you received the most financial support during the preceding 12 months or the parent from whom you received the most support the last time support was given.

What should you do if the parent with whom you live is remarried and the stepparent refuses to supply information?

If you are a dependent student and your parent is remarried, the stepparent's information must be included or you will not be considered for federal student financial aid. If you believe that your situation is unique or unusual other than the stepparent's simple refusal to provide the requested information, you should discuss the matter further with your financial aid administrator.

How does a family decide who should be counted in the household size?

Anyone in the immediate family who receives more than 50% support from a dependent student's parents or an independent student and spouse may be counted in the household size. For example, a sibling who is over 24 but still receives the majority of his/her support from the parents can be included. Siblings who are dependent (as defined by the FAFSA) as of the date you apply for aid are also included, regardless of whether they receive more than 50% of their support from the parents. Any other person who resides in the household and receives more than 50% support from the parents may also be counted, as long as they will continue to reside with your parents and the support is expected to continue through June 30, 2016. An unborn child who will be born during the award year may also be counted in the household size.

Household size and tax exemptions are not necessarily the same. Exemptions look at the previous year or tax year and household size refers to the school year for which the student is applying for aid.

My parents separated four months ago. I live with my mother. My parents filed a joint tax return and claimed me as an exemption. Do I report both their incomes, or just my mother's?

Report only your mother's income and asset information because you lived with her the most during the past 12 months. Use a W-2 Form or other record(s) to determine her share of the income reported and taxes paid on the tax return.

If I (the student) am separated but filed a joint tax return, how is the information reported?

You should give only your portion of the exemptions, income, and taxes paid.

Who qualifies to be counted in the number in college?

Any person (other than your parents) who is counted in the household and will be attending any term of the academic year at least half time. The person must be working toward a degree or certificate leading to a recognized education credential at a postsecondary school eligible to participate in the federal student aid programs. You (the student) need not be enrolled half time to be counted in the number in college.

I'm a dependent student, but whose information do I report if my parents are divorced or separated?

You report information about the parent you lived with for the greater amount of time during the 12 months preceding the date of application. If you didn't live with either parent, or if you lived with each parent an equal number of days, use information about the parent who provided the greater amount of financial support during the 12 months preceding the date of application. If you didn't receive any parental financial support during that time, you must report information about the parent who most recently provided the greater amount of parental support.

If the parent you receive financial support from was a single parent who is now married, or the parent was divorced or widowed but has remarried, your stepparents financial information is required on the FAFSA.

My parents don't support me and won't contribute to my education, so why am I still considered a "dependent" student?

It's a federal regulation. There are basic requirements a student must meet to be considered an independent student. If you do not meet these requirements but you still believe you are truly independent of your parents, you may appeal for a "dependency override" in the financial aid office at your school. In unusual cases, the financial aid administrator can change your dependency based on adequate documentation of special circumstances you may have.

How do the schools I'm interested in, get my FAFSA results?

You can list up to 10 schools on your FAFSA. Those schools will receive your FAFSA results electronically.

What if I want my information sent to more than 10 schools?

When filling out your FAFSA enter 10 schools. After your FAFSA is processed you will receive a SAR (Student Aid Report), at that time you will be able to make modifications online or by phone and add additional schools.