Earlier Is Better When It Comes To Applying For Financial Aid
When it comes to finding a way to pay for higher education, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the first steps families should take. This form helps the federal government determine whether students are eligible for federal grants, work-study programs, and federal student loans for college. Many states and schools also use data collected on the FAFSA to determine eligibility for additional aid, and if so, how much.
Interestingly, the FAFSA becomes available for families on October 1st of the year before the academic year during which aid would apply. This means that families with a student heading off to college for the 2023-24 academic year would fill out the FAFSA starting right now.
However, individual colleges also impose their own deadlines for the FAFSA, so you may be wondering if there are any benefits that come with getting started on it now. Personally, I don’t see any reason to wait if you or your dependent is definitely heading to a college or university next year. Either way, I reached out to some higher education experts to find out when they think you should fill out the FAFSA, and here’s what they said.
FAFSA Planning: Earlier Is Better
Liz (Mowry) Canini of PNC Bank says that filing the FAFSA is the single most important thing you can do in your planning-for-college journey. The form is the key to unlocking scholarships, grants, state aid and federal financial aid, and colleges and universities use FAFSA information to create financial aid packages, she says. However, some schools and states have limited amounts of student aid available, and at least some of that aid is given out to those who apply for it first.
With that in mind, Canini says to submit your FAFSA form as early as possible.
“Otherwise, you run the risk of not gaining access to that aid,” she says.
Will Geiger of Scholarships360.org adds that some states, like Idaho, Texas, and Connecticut even have priority FAFSA deadlines to encourage students to submit their applications earlier and get consideration for all possible need-based financial aid.
Some states and colleges set their own FAFSA deadlines as we mentioned already, so while the federal deadline for the FAFSA is June 30th, the deadline for the colleges on your list may be earlier, he says.
“If you even have one college with an earlier deadline, this will save you a lot of headaches so you don’t have to rush to get your FAFSA completed.”
Other Reasons To Get Started Now
Jayson Matlock, who serves as the Assistant Director of Financial Aid at Southern Utah University, also says that it makes sense to get started on the FAFSA right away if you have never filed one before and don’t quite know what you’re in for.
While the application has become easier to figure out and more simple over the years, Maylock says it can still be tedious to complete.
“Beginning the process early allows students to identify any gaps in their knowledge that prevents them from completing the application, and enables them to seek guidance from a professional to receive their aid in time.”
Student loan expert Fred Amrein of PayforEd also says that, especially this year, it makes sense to file the FAFSA as early as you possibly can.
Why? Because the impact of the Student Debt Relief Application may create additional system volume that will impact FAFSA and the StudentAid.gov site.
In other words, waiting to file the FAFSA could mean subjecting yourself to long wait times for your information to be processed. Ultimately, this could leave you missing out on aid you could be eligible for, or waiting longer than normal to hear so you can make financial decisions regarding your choice of school.
Pam Sittig, who works as the director of financial aid at Grinnell College, says that another benefit of filing early is that it allows the student to focus on other important tasks, such as completing college applications and researching other sources of financial aid like outside scholarships.
“Keep in mind that, even after the FAFSA is filed, students should carefully review schools’ websites to determine if other forms or documents are required and the deadline for submission,” says Sittig.
Having all financial aid applications completed early will relieve stress for not only the student, but the parent and guardian as well.
There’s No Reason To Wait
Ultimately, there aren’t really any good arguments in favor of waiting to fill out the FAFSA for the 2023-24 academic year or any other year in the future. Melanie Gillespie, who is currently the director of financial aid at Tri-County Technical College, says that FAFSA completion is the stepping stone to college entry and should be completed early so that multiple offers can be evaluated to determine the best fit for the student.
Further, getting started on the FAFSA early provides students with the knowledge they need to make the best financial choice for their family.
“Certain grants and scholarships are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and this funding could make the difference in a college or university being affordable or out of reach,” says Gillespie. “The earlier a student completes the FAFSA the more time they have to review costs versus aid and make an informed decision about the feasibility of each school.”
With all this in mind, it makes sense to begin working on the FAFSA form for yourself or your college-bound dependent as soon as you can. Ideally, you can start on the form now and have it completed within the next few weeks.
Fortunately, you can get started on the FAFSA online and at home, and studentaid.gov offers a variety of resources to help you do so.