Student Aid Secrets: File the FAFSA ASAP

Filing the FAFSA, 2015-2016 Edition (Cover)
Download the free guide:

File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after January 1 of the student's senior year in high school and each subsequent year in college. Do not procrastinate. Don't miss out on student financial aid by missing a deadline.

States with Early FAFSA Deadlines

First-come, First-served (9)

  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Washington (state)
  • Washington, D.C.

February Deadlines (3)

  • Connecticut
  • Oregon
  • Utah

March Deadlines (11)

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • West Virginia

The FAFSA is used to apply for financial aid from state grant programs and most colleges and universities, in addition to federal student aid. Colleges and state grant programs may have their own deadlines for filing the FAFSA. Several states and colleges have very early deadlines for state grants and other types of financial aid, some as early as February 1 (see sidebar). Other states and some colleges award their financial aid funds on a first-come, first-served basis, until the money runs out.

Students who file the FAFSA in January, February and March receive more than twice as much grant funding, on average, as students who file the FAFSA later.

(The FAFSA cannot be filed before January 1, as it requires income information from the prior tax year.)

Families should not wait until after the student has been admitted by a college or they have filed their federal income tax returns to submit the FAFSA.

Use Estimated Income and Tax Information to Complete the Form

Instead, families should report estimated student and parent income information on the FAFSA. Estimates can be based on W-2 forms and 1099 statements, the last pay stub of the year, and bank and brokerage account statements as of the date the FAFSA is completed.

Since W-2 forms must be mailed by the end of January and 1099 statements by mid-February, it is possible that the family will not receive them before state and college financial aid deadlines. In particular, 1099 statements for mutual funds, foreign stocks and real estate investment trusts tend to arrive late.

Review the previous year's federal income tax returns to ensure that no source of income is overlooked. Applicants must correct any inaccuracies later, after their federal income tax returns have been filed, but it is best to have the initial income estimates be as accurate as possible. Otherwise, there will be a significant change in the amount of financial aid eligibility when the FAFSA is updated after the federal income tax returns have been filed.

Don't Wait Until the Last Minute

Don't delay applying for aid. Filing the FAFSA earlier will help the student avoid missing deadlines, thereby maximizing the amount of aid for which they are eligible.

Don't wait until the day the application is due. Assume that the deadline is based on Eastern Time, not Pacific Time. (The federal deadline for filing the FAFSA is based on Central Time, but each state may use a deadline based on a different time zone for state grants. Assuming that the deadline is based on Eastern Time is safest.) Don't miss out on financial aid opportunities by missing any deadlines.