JB Pritzker, Governor, State of Illinois

2021-22 Completing a FAFSA

New in 2021-22
Completing the FAFSA
Critical Data
IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT)
FAFSA Output - Student Aid Report (SAR & ISIR)

New in 2021-22

Students may file a 2021-22 Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) beginning October 1, 2020 and report their 2019 income information.

The 2021-22 Summary of Changes for the Application Processing System guide includes details regarding all changes to the application process, including the color of the FAFSA documents, FAFSA on the Web (FOTW), paper application changes and enhancements, IRS DRT enhancements, the application processing schedule, CPS and ISIR changes and FAA Access to CPS changes.


Students and parents can use FAFSA4caster (a link to the site from the FAFSA on the Web home page to familiarize themselves to the FAFSA application process, various types of financial aid that are available and to obtain an early eligibility estimate for federal student aid. FAFSA4caster is for anyone who is not yet ready to file a FAFSA. A student does not have to be a high school senior to use FAFSA4caster; in fact, the tool is recommended for juniors, and even as early as middle school.

Completing the FAFSA

The 2021-22 electronic version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and the paper FAFSA are comprised of seven steps or sections, depending on the application that is used. Prior to beginning the FAFSA application process, applicants filing a FAFSA electronically should complete the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet, access the various links from the FAFSA application homepage, the Introduction page that displays before a FAFSA entry is started and read instructions provided with each FAFSA question. If the paper FAFSA is completed, refer to the instructions included in the application booklet.

Applicants can refer to the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website to obtain detailed information about the application process and completing either FAFSA version, creating an FSA ID and links to worksheets and the PDF version of the FAFSA or they can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1.800.4FED AID. Applicants filing electronically can click on the Help? button at the top of the page to access answers to common questions, use the search feature and to contact the FSAIC using the Live Help, e-mail or telephone options to obtain additional assistance.

While more applicants use online version of the FAFSA to apply for financial aid, the paper application option is still available. The following is a list of the sections included in the online version of the FAFSA and steps included in the paper version of the FAFSA. The questions on each version of the application are presented in a different order, but both result in the determination of the same Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Student Demographics & Eligibility Step One - Student Information
School Selection * Step Two - Student Tax and Asset Information
Student Dependency Status Information Step Three - Student Dependency Status
Parental Demographics Step Four - Parent Information (household size, income, tax, and asset information)
Financial Information Step Five - Independent Student Household Size Information
Sign and Submit Step Six - College Choices and Housing Information *
Confirmation Step Seven - Signatures

*A MAP-approved postsecondary school must be reported as one of the college choices to be considered for a MAP Grant.

Remind students that, when completing the 2021-22 FAFSA (electronic or paper) they should:

  • gather all the suggested documents needed;
  • use the FAFSA on the Web worksheet (English or Spanish) only for applications filed electronically;
  • follow all instructions and complete all questions; and
  • observe the federal and state deadlines.

The CPS reads paper FAFSA’s electronically. To improve the readability of a paper FAFSA, applicants should read the “Filling Out the FAFSA” section on page 2 of the paper FAFSA booklet. Encourage students to:

  • use a pen with black ink;
  • print carefully in CAPITAL letters and skip a box between words;
  • not write “N/A” or margin notes;
  • not leave anything blank;
  • round figures to the nearest dollar, report whole dollar amounts with no cents; and
  • if an answer is zero or the questions does not apply, enter 0 with no cents.

Critical Student Data

In addition to the FAFSA data elements that are required to determine a student's EFC, there are critical data elements that must be reported on the FAFSA to determine a student's eligibility for the MAP grants. The number referenced in parentheses are from the paper FAFSA. They are:

  • What is your state of legal residence? (#18)
  • Will you have a bachelor's degree before you begin the 2021-22 school year? (answer must be no)? (#28)
  • What will your college grade level be when you begin the 2021-22 school year? (#29)
  • At the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, will you be working on a master's or doctorate program? (answer must be no)? (#47)
  • What is your parent’s state of legal residence? (#69)

IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT)

The IRS DRT allows students and parents to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA and accurately transfer the data directly into their FAFSA from the IRS website. The IRS DRT will be available to use for transferring 2019 tax information to the 2021-22 FAFSA on October 1, 2020.

The IRS DRT can be used when initially completing the FAFSA online. If eligible to use the IRS DRT, the applicant should click Link To IRS to transfer tax return information from the IRS website into their FAFSA. All tax return data transferred, including answers from schedule 1, will be masked on 2021-22 online FAFSA and output documents that are sent to the applicant. Applicants will no longer be able to change their IRS-related data in the FAFSA Correction process. If a correction to IRS-related data is needed, the Financial Aid Advisor (FAA) must make the changes via the FAA Access to CPS Online electronic process.

There are several reasons an applicant is not eligible to use the IRS DRT. The IRS DRT filtering questions on FOTW explain that the answers to the questions determine if the tool can be used to transfer tax return information from the IRS to the FAFSA. When an applicant is ineligible to retrieve their tax data using the IRS DRT, they will need to enter their tax return information manually. If the applicant is ineligible or otherwise chooses not to use the IRS DRT to retrieve tax information, the college may require a copy of the student’s IRS Tax Return Transcript (and parents’ IRS Tax Return Transcript, if the student is dependent). The FAA at the college can refer to the Student and Parent IRS Request Flags in the 2021-22 Summary of Changes to the Application Processing System Guide to determine if an applicant was eligible for the IRS data retrieval process, if data was retrieved from the IRS, and if the data from the IRS was modified. The IRS Request Flag is different from the IRS Display Flag (also described in the guide), which informs the college if the student or parent was presented with the IRS DRT, and if not, the reason it was not displayed.

There are several sources to obtain additional details about the IRS DRT.

FAFSA Output – Student Aid Report (SAR)

After filing the FAFSA, the processor will analyze the application information using a federal formula to calculate an EFC. The results of the application are sent on an ISIR via EDE Express to the colleges listed on the FAFSA. Students will receive an electronic or paper SAR depending on the type of FAFSA filed and whether the applicant's e-mail address was provided on the FAFSA.

The Federal School Code information on the SAR will not change in the 2021-22 academic year. Applicants will continue to receive SARs that list all the Federal School Codes selected on each transaction and will continue to have the same options for entering, updating, and viewing up to ten college choices on FOTW and up to four choices on a paper SAR. FAAs will see only their school information (Federal School Code, Name, and Housing Plans) in FAA Correction Entry, Student Inquiry, and ISIR Compare and on the eSAR (PDF and HTML). The ISIR received by State Agencies will list all of the Federal School Codes selected by the applicant on each transaction.

  • An e-mail Notification of Processing is sent to the applicant within 3-5 days of processing with a link to access and print an electronic SAR (e-SAR), if the student provides an e-mail address;
  • A SAR Acknowledgement is mailed within 7-10 days to the applicant if the FAFSA is filed via FAFSA on the Web but an e-mail address is not provided; or
  • A paper SAR will be mailed to all FAFSA applicants within three weeks.

There are separate pages within the 2021-22 FAFSA Completion area that provide additional details about the Student Aid Report (SAR) and FAFSA Corrections.