The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form is an extremely important part of the application process for college financial aid. Every college student should file the form every year in school. The information your family submits as part of the FAFSA process is important each year you have a student in higher education. Many parts of the FAFSA process are important, but timing can make a huge difference.
Are there deadlines for FAFSA?
FAFSA is administered by the Federal Department of Education. If you ask the DOE or go to their website, they’ll say you have between October 1 and June 30 to fill out the form for the next school year. This is correct but believe it or not this answer from the government does not have your best interests in mind with regard to paying for college.
Does timing make a difference in financial aid awards?
Yes, it most certainly does. It varies, but you can expect more scholarship dollars to be available at the beginning of the process than the end. In other words, the closer to the October 1 date your application is submitted, the more financial aid dollars that will be available for your student.
Colleges can have their own deadlines
Individual universities and financial aid departments can choose earlier deadlines. Conceivably, you could be in a situation where you met the deadline for the FAFSA process but were too late for your school of choice to be considered for any kind of aid. Avoid this by checking the individual school’s deadline for the next year. Do this every year since it can change year to year.
When to file FAFSA
An early FAFSA application improves your future graduate’s odds substantially over procrastinators. While it’s not a guarantee of a scholarship or other award, it’s an easy step to improve the chances for your family. If two students apply with the exact same financial information on the form, expect the early filer to have the edge. Considering when to file the FAFSA, what does early mean? As soon after October 1 as possible.
Be prompt, but accurate
It’s important to be early after the online application becomes available, but accuracy is still important. Some families who should receive aid are disqualified based on a mistake made when entering financial information on the application. The DOE has a list of things you’ll need. The biggest one? Your tax information from the previous year will be important. Review the list well in advance of the first week of October to ensure you have the required information in hand. While filling out the application, use care to read all instructions and do your best to answer accurately. There are cases every year of students who are deserving of financial aid, but a mistake on the FAFSA form prevents them from receiving an award.
Don't forget about other requirements
While it is important to get the FAFSA form filed promptly and accurately, you'll want to check with your individual school or schools to see if anything else is required to be a candidate for financial aid consideration. One instance of this is some schools require the CSS profile, another tool (not free) some schools use to evaluate financial aid applicants. The best practice is to check the financial aid department at your school of choice to see what they require and the timing. With those things done, you'll be putting your student and family in the best position.
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