When to File the FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) form kicks off, and is a necessary part of, the process to receive financial aid from any higher education institution. This form becomes available on October 1st of each year for the following academic year. As an example, on October 1, 2020 the FAFSA form becomes available for those students who are attending a higher education institution for the 2021-2022 academic year. You should file the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available in an effort to obtain the most financial aid possible, as well as student work study opportunities, which are quickly filled.

FAFSA vs. CSS Profile

Please understand that the FAFSA is the financial aid form that is used by ALL higher education institutions for FEDERAL aid and MOST institutions for INSTITUTIONAL aid. The CSS Profile form is used by close to 400 colleges to assess a student’s institutional financial aid. This form is much more detailed than the FAFSA and requires more financial information than the FAFSA. It requires data such as home equity, retirement assets and both parents’ financial information if they are divorced or separated, among other things. This form is supported by the College Board.

In Addition to the FAFSA, It Is Important to Keep Track of Individual School Financial Aid Deadlines

Just as important as the FAFSA, each family needs to understand the financial aid deadlines that each school has for applying for financial aid. Why is this? If a family doesn’t apply for financial aid by the deadline, which means completing all of the required financial aid forms that that school asks for (which likely includes the FAFSA), they may very well not receive the financial aid that they would have if they applied by the deadline.

Some schools may have multiple financial aid deadlines, depending on their application deadlines. For example, if a school has an early decision deadline of November 1 and a regular decision deadline of February 1, the financial aid deadlines could be November 15 for early decision applicants and January 15 for regular decision applicants. You need to go to each school’s web site to find out what that school’s financial aid deadlines are. Trust me, they are different for every school. I strongly suggest that you keep track of each of the associated deadlines for each of the schools you are applying to and also the information required to complete your financial aid application.

You May Need to File More Information than the FAFSA or CSS Profile Requires

Also keep in mind that some colleges may require additional information than what was supplied on the FAFSA, and CSS Profile for those schools that require this form. Many times they will ask for your tax returns or have you complete additional forms. How to submit these additional forms varies by school as well. Some will have you upload these documents through the IDOC system, supported by the College Board. Others may have their own system through their website for you to do so or may even want you to just email this information to them. You can see that there is no consistent format to submit these forms. It is college specific.

How to Stay on Top of FAFSA and Financial Aid Filing Deadlines

It is important to stay on top of when to file the FAFSA and other financial aid documents. So, read your emails on at least a daily basis to be sure you keep up with what schools are requiring you to submit to complete your financial aid file. Failing to do so may mean that you will not be awarded the funds that you would have been awarded if you had followed all of each school’s instructions.

When to File the FAFSA Key Takeaways

As you can tell from the above, the financial aid process is not simple and all of the steps that it takes to submit your information to find out if you will be awarded funds can be complex. Don’t leave anything to chance. Start filing your financial information early. Fill out the FAFSA on October 1st and be diligent in finding out what needs to be submitted by all of your colleges and be sure to submit that information timely and prior to any financial aid deadlines. It will also never hurt to follow up to be sure that each school has received all of the information they require from you. Remember, no one cares about you as much as you do.

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