Ah, deadlines. The sworn enemy of students across the nation. When you’re busy with classes, extracurricular activities, and a social life in whatever time you’ve got left, it’s easy to lose track and let due dates start whooshing by. All of a sudden, your U.S. history paper is due at midnight, and you still don’t know Madison from a minuteman. We get it.
Nevertheless, we’re here to point out a few critical deadlines that you really shouldn’t miss: those to do with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). By submitting your FAFSA late, you might be forfeiting big money that can help you pay for college. Luckily for you, you’ve got just three types of deadlines to stay on top of. Now if only your Founding Father flashcards were that simple.
Here are those three deadlines:
The College Deadline
The first type of deadline comes from colleges themselves, and—spoiler alert—it’s typically pretty early. These deadlines vary from school to school, but they usually come well before the academic year starts, many in the neighborhood of early spring. If you’re applying to multiple colleges, be sure to look up each school’s FAFSA deadline and apply by the earliest one.
Many of these FAFSA due dates are priority deadlines. This means that you need to get your FAFSA in by that date to be considered for the most money. Many colleges have this date clearly marked on their financial aid pages. If you can’t find it, a call to the college’s financial aid office never goes amiss.
The State Deadline
The second deadline is determined by your home state. This deadline varies by state and can be as early as February 15 of a given year’s FAFSA application cycle (What’s good, Connecticut?). Some states have suggested deadlines to make sure you get priority consideration for college money, and some just want you to get the FAFSA in as soon as you can. States often award aid until they run out of money—first come, first served—so apply early.
You can check the deadline tool at fafsa.gov to see what the deal is in your state. You can also find that state-specific information on the paper or PDF FAFSA. In many cases, it turns out that state and school deadlines occur before you’ve even filed your taxes. If that’s the case, learn how to submit your FAFSA if you haven’t filed taxes yet.
The Federal Deadline
This last deadline comes from us, the Department of Education, aka the FAFSA folks. This one is pretty low-pressure. Our only time constraint is that each year’s FAFSA becomes unavailable on June 30 at the end of the academic year it applies to.
That means that the 2016–17 FAFSA (which became available Jan. 1, 2016) will disappear from fafsa.gov on June 30, 2017, because that’s the end of the 2016–17 school year. That’s right; you can technically go through your entire year at college before accessing the FAFSA. However, a few federal student aid programs have limited funds, so be sure to apply as soon as you can. Also, as we said, earlier deadlines from states and colleges make waiting a bad idea.
Why so many deadlines?
All these entities award their financial aid money differently and at different times. What they all have in common, though, is that they use the FAFSA to assess eligibility for their aid programs. So when a college wants to get its aid squared away before the academic year starts, it needs your FAFSA to make that happen. If you want in on that college money, you need to help the college out by getting your information in by its deadline. Same goes for state aid programs. Additionally, many outside scholarship programs need to see your FAFSA before they consider your eligibility for their money. If you’re applying for scholarships, you need to stay on top of those deadlines, too.
What happens if I miss the deadlines?
Don’t miss the deadlines. Plan to get your FAFSA in by the earliest of all the deadlines for your best crack at college money. By missing deadlines, you take yourself out of the running for money you might otherwise get. Some states and colleges continue awarding aid to FAFSA latecomers, but your chances get much slimmer, and the payout is often less if you do get aid. It’s better just not to miss the deadlines.
If you miss the end-of-June federal deadline, you’re no longer eligible to submit that year’s FAFSA. Did we mention not to miss the deadlines?
Across the board, the motto really is “the sooner the better.” So put off the procrastinating until tomorrow. Apply by the earliest deadline. Get your FAFSA done today!
Drew Goins is a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina. He’s also an intern with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. Likes: politics, language, good puns. Dislikes: mainly kale.