What is FAFSA And When is the Deadline?

Most students think that the hardest part of the college application process is writing the essay, taking the SAT or figuring out which school to attend. 

Many don’t realize that the most complicated, confusing and challenging section is actually completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

The FAFSA is the gateway to most kinds of financial aid, and like any kind of college form, the FAFSA has a deadline you must meet. Miss the window and you’re out of luck.

Keep reading to learn how the FAFSA deadlines work, when they are and how to submit everything on time.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is the official government form you must complete to qualify for federal student loans grants, and work-study. Want to get the Pell Grant? Then you have to complete the FAFSA. Want federal student loans? The FAFSA is your only way to get it.

But the FAFSA isn’t only good for federal aid. Many colleges require that students submit the FAFSA in order to receive internal grants and scholarships. If you don’t submit the FAFSA, then you may not receive any awards from your school.

Always complete the FAFSA, no matter how much your family makes, what your GPA is or if you already have a full-ride lined up. Completing the FAFSA provides financial aid opportunities that you would not have otherwise.

The FAFSA asks for information about your family’s finances to determine how much aid you qualify for. In general, families with lower incomes will qualify for more financial aid than those with higher incomes. Most students will have to use their parent’s incomes on the FAFSA, which may disqualify them from some types of need-based aid.

But if you’re married, a veteran, a graduate student, or 24 or older, then you will not have to use your parent’s or guardian’s financial information on the FAFSA. This 

The FAFSA is open to most types of students, including those attending two or four-year schools. Even graduate and Ph.D. students can benefit from the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is open starting on October 1st the year before you enroll. For example, for the 2023-2024 school year, the FAFSA opened on October 1, 2022.

When is the FAFSA Deadline?

For the 2023-2024 school year, the official FAFSA deadline is June 30, 2024. But there’s a big difference between the official FAFSA deadline and when you should actually complete it. 

Many states use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for local grants and scholarships. To be eligible for these awards, you may need to submit the FAFSA before the federal government requires it.

For most states, the FAFSA deadline is earlier than the federal deadline. If you miss the state deadline, you won’t qualify for state aid, even if you submitted the form by the federal due date.

You can go here to find out your state’s FAFSA deadline or by visiting the state’s Department or Bureau of Education website. Most states only offer awards to local students attending school and state, but it never hurts to apply even if you don’t plan to stay locally. Some states require a separate application on top of the FAFSA to qualify for aid.

State deadlines vary from state to state and can even be different depending on the type of grant. For example, California has a March 2, 2023 deadline for most of its state grants and a deadline of September 2, 2023 for some of its community college grants. Texas has a January 15, 2023 deadline, while New York has a June 30, 2024 deadline.

Some states offer an unlimited number of awards for local students as long as they complete the application and meet the basic eligibility criteria. However, other states have a limited number of awards so students need to submit the FAFSA quickly. 

For example, Indiana has two grants that are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Applications are due as soon as possible after the FAFSA is open.

Completing the FAFSA can take a while so it’s best to get your documents in order before the form opens on October 1st. Give yourself a couple of weeks to get your finances in order so you’ll be ready to hit submit as soon as the application is active.

Also, schools have their own FAFSA deadline, which determines what kind of internal awards the student qualifies for. Visit the school’s financial aid website or contact a financial aid officer to figure out what that deadline is. The school’s deadline is usually sooner than the federal or even the state deadline. For example, the University of Texas has a January 15 priority deadline for the FAFSA.

According to the Department of Education’s financial aid website, many schools require that students complete the FAFSA by February or March. But this is just a general guideline; you should always verify the school’s deadline yourself.

A basic rule of thumb is to try to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after it has been released. Some federal grants, like the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), are only given on a first-come, first-serve basis. Also, most schools have a small number of work-study spots so students need to complete the FAFSA soon to be eligible for those.


My family isn’t poor- is there any point to filling out the FAFSA?

One of the biggest – and most expensive – misconceptions is that the FAFSA only helps families below a certain income bracket. But as long as students are eligible for federal financial aid, they will receive federal student loans that usually have lower interest rates, better repayment options and longer deferment and forbearance periods than private loans.

Also, many schools require the FAFSA to receive any merit-based scholarships, so you’ll be taking yourself out of the running by not completing it. 

How long does it take the FAFSA to process?

You can submit the FAFSA online, which will take between three and five business days to be processed. Submitting electronically is best because the FAFSA may be able to sync with your and your parent’s tax returns to make filing easier and smoother.

If you submit a paper version of the FAFSA, it will usually take between 7 and 10 business days. Once the form is complete, you must mail it to the following address:

Federal Student Aid Programs
P.O. Box 7650
London, KY 40742-7650

What do I need to qualify to fill out the FAFSA?

You must have a high school degree, GED or other equivalent to be eligible for the FAFSA. You also need to be a US citizen or eligible noncitizen and are planning to enroll in a degree or certificate program.

What happens if I miss the FAFSA deadline? 

If you miss the school FAFSA deadline, you will usually not qualify for any of their grants or scholarships. If you miss the state deadline, then you will not receive those grants or scholarships. But missing the federal FAFSA deadline is the worst because it means you’re out of the running for federal student loans, grants and work-study.

What do I need to submit the FAFSA?

To fill out the FAFSA, you must list basic contact, demographic and financial information. You will also usually have to provide info from your and your parent’s tax returns, W2s or 1099s, bank statements, investment and retirement accounts and more.

Do I only have to complete the FAFSA once?

Completing the FAFSA is not a one-time deal. You have to submit it for every year that you want financial aid. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you won’t qualify for many kinds of aid.

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