If you’re planning on attending college next fall, be aware: The time to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is as close to October 1, 2021 as you can manage.
The FAFSA is used for a lot more than just federal aid, so you should fill it out even if you think you aren't eligible for need or academic-based grants. You'll have to complete the FAFSA to take out federal student loans or even get a work-study position.
Here are the key dates to keep your eye on — and why they're important for you.
FAFSA deadlines to keep in mind
When you’re in college application mode, it can be easy to put financial aid at the end of the list. But don’t devote all your time to crafting essays and gathering records.
Technically you can complete your FAFSA any time through the summer of 2022, but in the financial aid world, the early bird gets the worm. There are three due dates you’ll need to keep an eye on:
The federal due date
Your target school’s due date, and
The state’s due date.
Making sure you’re registered for aid as early in the year as possible increases your odds of getting that aid, especially scholarships.
That's because a lot of financial aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis.
FAFSA registration opens October 1st
For the 2022-2023 school year, students can complete their FAFSA on the federal Department of Education website as early as October 1, 2021.
But you don’t want to wait until October 1st to gather all your materials. Starting a week or two before, make sure you have things like social security numbers, family income, bank accounts, investment-accounts, and other relevant info on hand. That'll make the process faster and easier once you get started.
The window to complete the FAFSA doesn't close until June 30, 2021. That means you can still fill it out later in the semester or even during the school year if for some reason you need more time. But you should still try to get it done as soon as you can to give yourself the best chance of snagging more aid.
Each college has its own deadline, so you'll need to double check with your school first. If you're a high school senior, you'll need to check with each of the schools you are applying to.
In general, like the federal deadline, you usually have a long period of time in which you can fill out the actual form. But a lot of schools also provide a priority deadline you should be aware of. Students need to have their FAFSA completed and received by the school by that date in order to be eligible for the greatest amount of aid.
Individual states also often give out grants and scholarships to students attending state-approved schools. Sometimes there is a single priority due date for all kinds of aid; in other states, individual awards may have their own deadlines.
For example, some states have multiple need-based scholarships that may be due at different times. Applying early helps ensure that you don't miss out on any of the aid that might be available to you.
When it comes to your planning how to pay for college —especially when seeking financial aid — it's important to be organized and informed about the process. Doing a little leg work in advance, putting important dates in your calendar, and prepping the paperwork ahead of time will go a long way to ensure you not only get aid, but that you maximize the types and total amount of aid you're awarded.
Need help filling out the FAFSA? Check out our question-by-question FAFSA Guide.
Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky