For students seeking federal financial aid to pay for college, the deadline to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is June 30 each year. But to maximize their chances of getting aid, every prospective and current college student would ideally submit the FAFSA promptly after the application opens on Oct. 1 of the school year before the aid will be used.
This is often not the case. In fact, experts say many students wait to submit the FAFSA until their state deadline or even later. The federal application remains open for a full 21 months, not closing until June 30 nearly two years after the application opened for a given award year.
In the 2020-2021 FAFSA cycle, for example, the application opened Oct. 1, 2019, and the last day for students to submit the form is June 30, 2021. This means that high school seniors who plan to begin college in 2020 were able to begin filling out the FAFSA in October.
To be eligible for federal financial aid like work-study, student loans and the Pell Grant, as well as a range of other college and state need-based aid, students must submit the FAFSA. In addition to keeping the federal deadline in mind, they must juggle multiple independent FAFSA deadlines unique to their college and state. The difference between filing early, on time and late can amount to thousands of dollars in funding to pay for college.
Each state has its own grant and scholarship programs, usually for residents only, that often have deadlines much earlier than the federal deadline. State and institution deadlines can come as early as November, or in the early spring months of the following year.
But if a student misses an institution or state deadline, there is still hope for financial aid.
"Unless you missed the June 30th deadline for FAFSA, opportunities for limited aid (Pell Grants and Federal Loans) should still be there as long as the student remains enrolled at least half-time and meets all other requirements," Marty Somero, director of financial aid at the University of Northern Colorado, wrote in an email. "A student should certainly check with their school on any exceptions to missed deadlines especially if there were true extenuating circumstances such as a death of a parent."
Plus, some states like Indiana will allow students to appeal if they miss the state deadline because of extenuating circumstances. Colby Shank, associate commissioner for student financial aid at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, says the state's scholarship money is guaranteed for students who meet the qualifications and submit the FAFSA by the state deadline of April 15, a common state deadline because it falls on Tax Day.
But this isn't the case for all states, he says, as some states offer funding until it runs out.
Limited funding and strictly enforced deadlines are just two of the reasons students should apply for financial aid well before the FAFSA deadlines, experts say.
"It takes a little time for the college to take that FAFSA and turn that into money for the student on the first day of class. You don't want to delay. If you didn't file your FAFSA before the start of class or not too soon before the start of class, you don't want that to impact your ability to register for classes or actually attend," Shank says.
"Earlier is always better," he says. "The best time to start thinking about it is when the FAFSA opens the prior fall. Many individuals are first-generation college students, so it gives them more time to understand the types of questions that will be on the FAFSA. It gives you time to get your FSA ID created, and then if you do run into any troubles, there are a number of places you can reach out to that can help you, and there's still time before your state filing deadline."
The FSA ID is a username and password that must be created to fill out and sign the FAFSA online.
Though there may be flexibility in some deadlines, like institutional deadlines, Blaine Blontz, founder and lead consultant of Financial Aid Coach, says students will maximize their aid by being aware of all the different grant and scholarship deadlines and submitting the FAFSA early.
There are other advantages, he says.
"Something that I've seen with the families I work with is just the peace of mind that comes with meeting the deadlines," Blontz wrote in an email. "Do you need to complete financial aid forms the week of Oct. 1? No, that's not necessary. Is it nice to have all of your requirements in before Thanksgiving, even if you are not considering early action or early decision? Absolutely."
The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of state deadlines for the FAFSA annually, and Shank says students should also check their college's website to find deadlines for specific grants and scholarships, or contact their financial aid office if the submission deadline isn't clearly stated.
Below are the 2020-2021 FAFSA deadlines by state, as compiled by the Department of Education.
|Alabama||Check with your financial aid office.|
Alaska Performance Scholarship: June 30, 2020 (priority deadline).
Alaska Education Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.
|Arizona||Check with your financial aid office.|
Academic Challenge: June 1, 2020, by midnight CST.
Workforce Grant: Check with your financial aid office.
Higher Education Opportunity Grant: June 1, 2020, by midnight CST.
For many state financial aid programs: March 2, 2020 (date postmarked).
Cal Grant also requires submission of a school-certified GPA by March 2, 2020. Applicants are encouraged to obtain proof of mailing their GPA and to retain a copy of their GPA form.
For additional community college Cal Grants: Sept. 2, 2020 (date postmarked).
If you're a noncitizen without a Social Security card or had one issued through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, you should fill out the California Dream Act Application found at caldreamact.org. You do not need to fill out a FAFSA form to be eligible for California student financial aid. Contact the California Student Aid Commission (csac.ca.gov) or your financial aid office for more information.
|Colorado||Check with your financial aid office.|
|Connecticut||Feb. 15, 2020, by midnight CST (priority deadline).|
|Delaware||April 15, 2020, by midnight CST.|
|District of Columbia|| |
May 1, 2020 (priority deadline).
For DCTAG, complete the DC OneApp and submit supporting documents by May 31, 2020 (priority deadline).
|Florida||May 15, 2020 (date processed).|
|Georgia||Check with your financial aid office.|
|Hawaii||Check with your financial aid office.|
|Idaho||Opportunity Grant: March 1, 2020, by midnight CST (priority deadline).|
|Illinois||As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.|
Frank O'Bannon Grant: April 15, 2020, by midnight CST.
21st Century Scholarship: April 15, 2020, by midnight CST.
Adult Student Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019. New applicants must submit additional forms at ScholarTrack.IN.gov.
Workforce Ready Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.
|Iowa||July 1, 2020, by midnight CST. Earlier priority deadlines may exist for certain programs.|
|Kansas||April 1, 2020, by midnight CST (priority deadline).|
|Kentucky||As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.|
|Louisiana||July 1, 2021 (July 1, 2020 recommended).|
|Maine||May 1, 2020, by midnight CST.|
|Maryland||March 1, 2020, by midnight CST.|
|Massachusetts||May 1, 2020, by midnight CST (priority deadline).|
|Michigan||March 1, 2020, by midnight CST.|
|Minnesota||30 days after term starts, by midnight CST.|
|Mississippi||June 1, 2020, by midnight CST.|
|Missouri||Feb. 3, 2020 (priority deadline). Applications are accepted through April 1, 2020, at midnight CST.|
|Montana||Dec. 1, 2019 (priority deadline).|
|Nebraska||Check with your financial aid office.|
Nevada Promise Scholarship: April 1, 2020.
Silver State Opportunity Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.
All other aid: Check with your financial aid office.
|New Hampshire||Check with your financial aid office.|
|New Jersey|| |
2019--20 Tuition Aid Grant recipients: April 15, 2020, by midnight CST.
All other applicants:
|New Mexico||Check with your financial aid office.|
|New York||June 30, 2021, by midnight CST.|
|North Carolina||As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.|
|North Dakota||As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.|
|Ohio||Oct. 1, 2020, by midnight CST.|
|Oklahoma||As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.|
OSAC Private Scholarships: March 1, 2020.
Oregon Promise Grant: Contact your state agency.
Oregon Opportunity Grant: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.
All first-time applicants enrolled in a community college; business, trade, or technical school; hospital school of nursing; designated Pennsylvania Open-Admission institution; or nontransferable two-year program: Aug. 1, 2020, by midnight CST.
All other applicants: May 1, 2020, by midnight CST.
|Puerto Rico||Check with your financial aid office.|
|Rhode Island||Check with your financial aid office.|
|South Carolina|| |
Tuition Grants: June 30, 2020, by midnight CST.
SC Commission on Higher Education Need-based Grants: As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.
|South Dakota||Check with your financial aid office.|
State Grant: Prior-year recipients receive award if eligible and apply by February 1, 2020. All other awards made to neediest applicants.
Tennessee Promise: Feb. 1, 2020 (date received).
|Texas||Jan. 15, 2020 (priority deadline).|
|Utah||Check with your financial aid office.|
|Vermont||As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.|
|Virginia||Check with your financial aid office.|
As soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2019.
Students ineligible for federal aid but who meet state financial aid program and residency requirements should complete the Washington Application for State Financial aid at readysetgrad.org/wasfa instead of the FAFSA.
|West Virginia|| |
PROMISE Scholarship: March 1, 2020. New applicants must submit additional forms at cfwv.com.
WV Higher Education Grant Program: April 15, 2020.
|Wisconsin||Check with your financial aid office.|
|Wyoming||Check with your financial aid office.|
Source: Federal Student Aid
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Emma Kerr is the paying for college reporter at U.S. News & World Report. Prior to joining U.S. News, she covered education in Maryland for the Frederick News-Post and made stops at the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Daily Beast, among others. She graduated from the University of Michigan--Ann Arbor, where she studied English and international studies and began her career as a news reporter at its student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can connect with her on Twitter at @EmmaRKerr.