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.