The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a critical step in getting financial aid for college - whether or not you think you might be eligible. The FAFSA opens every year on October 1, but is available well beyond the traditional college application window into June. So many students wonder: Does it matter when you apply? How urgent is it?
The short answer is yes - it matters, and you should complete the FAFSA at your earliest convenience. There will be several deadlines to which you will want to pay attention: each college's deadline, any state deadline, and the federal deadline. Each of these entities award money differently, but for all of them, the sooner you submit your FAFSA, the more award money for which you will be considered.
Here’s more on each type of FAFSA deadline:
College Deadline for FAFSA
Each college has their own deadline for financial aid, which may or may not be the same as the application deadline. Colleges will want to build financial aid award packages based on FAFSA results, meaning that you need to complete the FAFSA before the college’s deadline in order to be considered for financial aid. You will want to learn the deadline for each school you plan on applying to. If you do not know where you are applying, you can log back into your FAFSA later to send it to schools.
State Deadlines for FAFSA
State-specific financial aid programs most often apply to in-state public schools, but you might be eligible for a range of programs. State deadlines vary by state – and some states award on a first come, first served basis mentality. Be sure to learn your state’s deadline.
Federal Deadline for FAFSA
The federal deadline is June 30th of each year, at midnight Central Standard Time. This is the deadline to be eligible for federal financial aid.
While there are three types of FAFSA deadlines, you only have to complete the form once! We recommend researching deadlines for each school when you apply as well as for the state where you live. The earliest deadline is the deadline you should aim to hit to make sure you’re considered for all types of aid.
Completing the FAFSA is a process and requires a bit of focus, so getting it done sooner rather than later can lessen some anxiety. Completing it earlier lets you focus on college and scholarship applications, and prepares you to more accurately compare the costs of the colleges you are considering. There will also be some scholarships that take into account your FAFSA results.
If you realize you’ve missed a deadline, don’t despair. There can be occasions where submitting your FAFSA after the deadline will cause you to lose out on money. However, if you do miss a deadline, you should still submit the FAFSA. You may not receive the maximum amount of aid, but you will still be considered for any remaining aid.