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When Do I Need to Complete the FAFSA?

November 11, 2018

No FAFSA, no financial aid. Check your deadlines and make sure you’ve filed on time!


If you’re depending on need-based financial aid to help pay for college, you know how important the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is. The FAFSA form is the foundation of all your need-based aid--it’s the master document that both the government and your college uses to determine your financial aid eligibility, based on your family income, and ultimately the amount of need-based aid you’re awarded.


Because the FAFSA is the first step in the financial aid process, it’s important to know the deadlines to turn in your FAFSA application. Yes, we said plural deadlines--you’ll need to be aware of the federal, state, and specific college or university deadlines, as applicable. (The deadlines may be the same, but don’t assume: You always want to check, just in case!)


The Federal FAFSA Deadline


For a given academic year, the U.S. Department of Education usually allows students to submit the FAFSA forms between October of the previous academic year and June of the current academic year, with the federal FAFSA deadline that same June. For example, the FAFSA for the 2019-20 academic year was made available on October 1, 2018, with a federal deadline of midnight CST on June 30, 2020.


Because of the volume of students applying for financial aid, pool of allocated funds, and the duration of the FAFSA application process, early applications are recommended (e.g., October of the previous academic year). According to Student Loan Hero, late applications typically are submitted when there’s been an unexpected change in financial circumstances that could impact need-based eligibility. To maximize your funding, it’s a good rule of thumb to get your paperwork ready early, and submit as early as you can (regardless of your finances).  


State FAFSA Deadlines


Because many state budgets allocate money for financial aid, especially for students attending their in-state public colleges, many states have their own FAFSA deadlines. Make sure to check your state’s FAFSA deadline early so you don’t miss the deadline that could impact your financial aid package.


Luckily, your research should just take a few minutes: The U.S. Department of Education has a state FAFSA deadline website so you can easily find the deadline applicable to you. We took a quick look and saw that the deadline for Texas residents to submit the FAFSA for the 2019-20 academic year, for example, is “as soon as possible after October 1, 2018”; for Texas public colleges, the FAFSA deadline for priority consideration is January 15, 2019.


Another reason to check state FAFSA deadlines early is that additional forms may be required to be considered for financial aid. Inquire with your school financial aid counselor or state department of education for specific requirements.  


Similar to federal FAFSA recommendations, early-bird submissions for state financial aid are recommended. In many cases, funds are only available until depleted, so first-come applicants may be the first awarded.   


College FAFSA Deadlines


Wait, there’s more! Your college will also have its own FAFSA deadline--this helps financial aid counselors determine student eligibility for funds within its own endowments and other money allocated for need-based financial aid awards. For example, Macalester College has different FAFSA deadlines based on student status. (Regular decision students need to submit the FAFSA by January 15, 2019, for the 2019-20 school year.) Contact your college financial aid office early in the application process to get their specific FAFSA deadline, as well as any insider application tips to ensure you’ll be able to maximize your financial aid package.


In some cases, your college may also require you to fill out the CSS/PROFILE for financial aid consideration, and will have a specific deadline for that form as well. Again, inquire with your school’s financial aid office at the time of applying for admission so you know everything that’s required for your aid package.   


Remember, when it comes to the FAFSA and financial aid, know what’s expected of you in advance and plan ahead. As long as you get your paperwork in on time, you’ll be considered for financial aid awards--and then you can go back and negotiate later if needed.