Why You Should Fill Out the FAFSA ASAP

Why you should fill out the FAFSA ASAP

Spoiler alert: college is really expensive. Begging the government for money can make it more affordable! Such begging is done in the form of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—FAFSA® for short. In order to maximize the amount of aid you can get, it’s very important that you fill out your FAFSA early.

In my experience, filling out the FAFSA is not super quick and easy. While you can do it in one sitting, it’s a bit of a process. That’s why it’s best to get a solid start on it so you’re not overwhelmed with it just before a deadline. Here are some tips to help you prep for and fill out your FAFSA.

And here’s some info about when you CAN fill out your FAFSA versus when you SHOULD fill out your FAFSA. There can be a big difference!

When You Can Fill Out Your 2017–18 FAFSA

  • Starting October 1, 2016—The 2017–18 FAFSA becomes available on October 1, so you can fill it out that day or any time through the federal deadline mentioned below. Just get it over with.
  • Midwinter—Did you know that a lot of colleges and state higher education agencies look at your FAFSA to determine what financial aid they can offer you from their own funds? Most schools will have their own deadlines for the FAFSA. In my experience, most were around February 1 and March 1 (although some may be a little earlier now that the FAFSA is going to launch earlier). And your state may have a deadline that is even earlier than the school’s. Make sure you check your state deadline and each school’s deadline.
  • By June 30, 2018—This is the federal deadline for the 2017–18 FAFSA—meaning, if you qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, you can apply this late and still get one.
  • When you can—Some people don’t decide they’re going to college until after state and school deadlines have passed. But even though you probably won’t receive maximum aid (since much of the state and school aid won’t be available to you), it’s still worth a shot to apply for federal dollars and to see what other aid might still be available. So definitely fill out a FAFSA.

When You Should Fill Out Your 2017–18 FAFSA

  • ASAP after October 1. Here’s why …

Why You Should Fill Out the FAFSA ASAP

  • A better chance at more state and school aid. Need I say more? Schools and states have a limited amount of aid, and a bunch of states have a FAFSA deadline of “as soon as possible after October 1,” (meaning they actually could run out of financial aid) so it’s good to be at the front of the line!
  • Get it out of the way so you can focus on other things, like college applications, college coursework, or applying for scholarships.
  • It makes comparing colleges easier. If you submit your FAFSA early there’s a chance that colleges will give you an estimated financial aid offer early, giving you more time to compare colleges before the college decision deadline.
  • More scholarship eligibility. Some scholarships look at your FAFSA results—and some of those scholarships have early deadlines. Don’t disqualify yourself from those scholarships.

Procrastination Excuses That I Won’t Accept

  • “The form is too hard to fill out; I gotta dig up all my tax info and that sounds like a real pain.”
    Luckily for you it’s not actually that bad. As of this year, the FAFSA asks for older tax info than it used to. So for the 2017–18 year, you’d need your tax info from 2015, so you already have it!
  • “I probably won’t even get any aid because my parents do okay financially, so I’ll just get to it if I have time.”
    Some aid you can get from the FAFSA isn’t based on financial need; there are a lot of academic scholarships that require you to submit a FAFSA. Do you really want to take yourself out of the running for that free money?
  • “I don’t have time right now.”
    It usually takes less than a half-hour to fill out the FAFSA, so put that phone down and try again; and it helps if a parent helps you out.

In summary: fill out your 2017–18 FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1, 2016.

Megan Friebe is a sophomore at Michigan State University, where she spends her days studying public affairs and social policy, her evenings studying the same thing, and, if she’s lucky, her nights sleeping. She also manages to find time to intern with the Customer Experience team in the office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education.


  1. Our 2015 income was more than our 2016/2017 income due to the fact that I had to quit work to take care of my special needs daughter. Do I still have to use the 2015 tax info? I would think that my daughter in college would receive more financial aid this upcoming year since our income is less?

    • The 2017-18 FAFSA will ask about your income and tax information from 2015, so even though you had a higher income in 2015 you still must report that. After filing, contact the school’s financial aid office to ask for a “professional judgment” review. Explain your situation and provide any documentation you feel is necessary. The school is usually able to help if there are significant changes (like your job status in 2016) that cannot be reported on the FAFSA.

  2. Do I need to fill out a separate FASFA for each of my kids? My son is already in college but my daughter will be going fall of 2017. Can I use the current one I have for my son and send that or do I need to start over?
    Thank you.

    • Separate forms for each child. Each FAFSA is unique to one student and one student only. You also have to file it every year if you want to continue receiving financial aid. Also, each child needs their own FSA ID. As a parent, you can use the same FSA ID to sign each child’s FAFSA. There is a way to transfer the parent’s demographic info into a sibling’s FAFSA. Your son should complete his FAFSA first. From fafsa.gov he’ll select “Login” then “FAFSA Renewal.” When your son finishes his FAFSA renewal, there will be an option at the confirmation page to transfer info to a sibling’s FAFSA. View this screenshot for an example: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CufnOX5WYAA3H2Z.jpg

    • Yes. Separate for each kid. The FAFSA is unique to one individual, which is the person going to college. Each person going to college needs their own FAFSA. You can use the same FSA ID (as a parent) to sign both of their FAFSAs. Each child needs their own FSA ID. After your first child completes their FAFSA, there is a link at the end to transfer parent information to a sibling’s FAFSA. You can select this option and begin your second child’s FAFSA.

  3. My daughter did not qualify last year. I am clueless why not.I am a single Mom with no extra income. I am a middle school teacher. Should she apply again?

    • We definitely understand that free money, like grants and scholarships, are the preferred type of financial aid because they don’t have to be paid back. Many of the grants we offer, including the Federal Pell Grant, are “need-based”, meaning you must have certain level of financial need to qualify. Your school will use your FAFSA information to determine whether you qualify for these grants, and if you do, you’ll get them. If you still have a gap between what your school costs and the amount of grants, scholarships, and out-of-pocket funds you can afford to pay, federal student loans can be a good option. Federal student loans offer several advantages over private student loans and most people qualify. Just make sure to borrow only what you need! If you want more free money, make sure your daughter applies for scholarships. There are tons out there!

  4. Can my daughter apply for her second semester? She applied last tera snd appatently she did not quality for anything. I am a single mom, a teacher in middle school and I really I Know I do not have money for her college education. Should she try again?

    • The FAFSA is an annual application, so it applies for the academic year, not per semester. Your daughter should file her FAFSA again for the 2017-18 academic year if she plans to continue college. Her aid award could be different this year. 
If she filed a 2016–17 FAFSA and received an award letter from her school before, don’t assume that next year’s financial aid award will be the same. We ask you to complete the FAFSA annually because the factors used to calculate your aid change each year: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/next-steps/how-calculated

      Things like her year in school, family income, and cost of attendance at her school are just a few factors used to determine her aid. You never know what aid you may get if you don’t complete the FAFSA, so don’t let last year’s award deter you from potential aid you may receive this year.

  5. My husband and I used our parents’ tax information for the 2016-2017 year and were not yet married. Do we use that information again?

    • No. The FAFSA will ask about your current marital status. It will say “As of TODAY, are you married?” and if you say “Yes,” you’re considered to be an independent student and will not provide information about your parents on the FAFSA. However, you will still be asked to report tax information from 2015 about you AND your spouse.

  6. if i plan on going to college for 4+ years do i need to fill out the FAFSA application every year ? or just update it ?

  7. If my daughter is applying to college but plans on a gap year so will defer should i still fill out the fafsa anyway?

    • You only need to complete a FAFSA for the school year you plan to attend college. So the short answer is no, but check with the school’s financial aid office for details on deferring for a year and how that will affect aid.

  8. How much assets affect things depends on parent age, income.
    You can look up asset protection allowance posted in the 2017/18 EFC formula. Parent assets are assessed at about 5%.
    You can even calculate your EFC with the EFC formula or Collegeboard EFC calculator to see if waiting to pay tuition bill would make sense.
    This article is most important for low income students with very low EFCwho might miss out on state aid by waiting too long if they live in a state that has “first come first served” aid. The amount of aid missed out on might be several thousand $ whereas the EFC impact of assets now versus in December might be minimal.

  9. With the change in filing date, I am concerned that my EFC will be higher than if applying in January since the Spring semester bill will not have been paid yet. Does the 2017-18 take this into account?

    • No, applications do not have to be completed before you do the FAFSA. It’s best to get the FAFSA done and out of the way ASAP then focus on college applications.

    • No. You can still file as long as you list at least one school on your FAFSA. It’s OK to complete your FAFSA before turning in college applications. On the FAFSA, add every school you’re considering, even if you haven’t applied or been accepted yet. If you’re on the fence about a particular school, add it anyway. Doing so will hold your place in line for financial aid in case you end up applying for that school. You can also add or remove schools to your FAFSA later: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/next-steps/correct-update#change-schools

    • Yes, you should still fill it out. Although there are no grants awarded for grad school, there’s still opportunity for loans. If awarded loans, you don’t have to take them but it’s great to still have the loan available to you in case you ever need it. Also, if during your time in grad school you decide to apply for any financial assistance, you are usually required to show proof that you completed your FAFSA.

    • You can. Here are the types of financial aid we offer to grad students: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sites/default/files/graduate-professional-funding-info.pdf.

      You should apply for scholarships and fellowships too! Keep in mind that graduate students who already have a bachelor’s degree will not be eligible for the Federal Pell Grant. (In some cases, however, a student enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program might receive a Federal Pell Grant.)

  10. My understanding is that the deadline for the 2017-2018 FAFSA is June 30, 2018. Please make sure this is updated.

  11. FAFSA is a joke! Being the stepfather is not paying for college by any means but me (mother) alone, and real father has not been in picture for many years. FAFSA still looks at household income and step dad makes 3xs more then me.

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