College can be confusing, right? Between applications, deadlines, and figuring out how much you owe, navigating the nuts and bolts of school can be downright mind-boggling ... and that's all before you even take a seat in a lecture hall.
One area that seems to draw a lot of confusion is financial aid in general and FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, in particular. Let's take a look at what you need to know to stay on top of your financial aid.
How long is FAFSA good for?
The good news is that you only have to apply for FAFSA once each year. The award you receive is good for an entire academic year, which consists of the fall semester, the spring semester, and the summer semester (in that order).
FAFSA applications open each fall for the following school year, and remain open for 18 months. (We'll talk more about this in a minute.) You need to reapply every school year.
That means that when October 1 rolls around, you need to be ready to fill out your FAFSA.
Even if you don't think you'll qualify for for federal loans, grants, or work-study programs, you should still consider applying each year because many schools use FAFSA information to allocate institutional financial aid.
Plus, remember that income changes, and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) could change. All of these things are taken into consideration each year when determining the amount of financial aid you may be eligible for.
What is FAFSA used for?
Completing and submitting the FAFSA not only makes you eligible for federal money, it may also be required to receive state and school aid.
This could include school or state-specific scholarships, work-study, school grants, and loans. Plus, many private scholarships require you to fill out the FAFSA in order to apply and be awarded money.
Key dates to put on your calendar
The first date to mark on your calendar is October 1. Aim to apply for FAFSA for the next school year as soon as possible after this date.
When it comes to the FAFSA, there are federal and state deadlines, and your college may also have a deadline.
If all three (federal, state, and school) have different deadlines, make sure to file your FAFSA by the first deadline posted. Check the FAFSA website for more information.
If you’re looking at the 2018-2019 FAFSA (which corresponds to the 2018-2019 school year), the application window opened on October 1, 2017, and runs until June 30, 2019.
However, even though, the federal government gives you an 18-month period to complete your FAFSA, applying early may mean more money in your pocket. Many states distribute aid based on a first-come, first-served basis. If you apply after your school’s deadline, there may not be any institutional funds left to disburse.
- October 1: FAFSA goes live on the fafsa.ed.gov website for the 2019-2020 academic year. Those filing dates are October 1, 2018, to June 30, 2020.
- June 30: FAFSA application window closes for the current school year.
- Note that the current FAFSA cycle is for 2018-2019. Those dates are October 1, 2017, to June 30, 2019.
- If you are thinking ahead, the next FAFSA cycle is for the 2019-2020 academic year. Those filing dates are October 1, 2018, to June 30, 2020.
For answers to some additional questions about financial aid, see A Step-By-Step To Completing The 2018-2019 FAFSA Questions.