The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as the FAFSA, is a common financial aid application form used to apply for financial aid from the federal government, state governments, and most colleges and universities. Each year, the FAFSA application season officially starts on October 1.
When is the FAFSA Deadline?
The FAFSA deadline for the 2020-21 academic year is 12:00am Central Time (CT) on June 30, 2021, or the end of the academic year (the last day of enrollment), whichever comes first.
FAFSA corrections must be submitted to the financial aid office by mid-September, about two and a half months after the June 30, 2021 deadline.
Although students have until the end of the 2020-21 academic year (or June 30, 2021) to qualify for federal student aid, it is best to file the FAFSA much sooner. The FAFSA form disappears from the FAFSA.gov website after June 30, 2021 and is no longer accessible for that year.
And college financial aid offices must have received a valid output from the FAFSA in the form of a Student Aid Report (SAR) or an Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) by the deadline, which is typically in September.
What is the FAFSA?
FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form that students and their families can fill out each academic year. By filling out and submitting the form, students may be able to receive grants and loans from the federal government. Colleges can also receive a copy of students’ submissions and provide additional aid.
Filling out the FAFSA may qualify students for:
- Federal Pell Grants
- Federal Stafford Loans
- The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
- Federal Work-Study program
Filling out the FAFSA is one of the best ways for students to get help with paying for college.
More than 80% of students around the country qualified for some form of aid through the FAFSA and in the 2019-2020 school year, the government handed out more than $183 billion in undergraduate student aid, 27% of which was in federal loans:
We will, of course, update this article with 2021 data as soon as it becomes available.
What to Include in your FAFSA
The FAFSA asks students and their families to provide certain demographic and financial information. This lets the government direct additional aid to students who have a financial need while still providing assistance to the majority of students.
There are some eligibility requirements that students filling out the FAFSA must meet. For example, male applicants must have registered for Selective Service, and all applicants must have either a high school diploma or a GED.
In addition to the FAFSA, some colleges ask students to fill out the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. This is not necessary for students who aren’t attending a school that requires it and it is not related to the FAFSA.
Why is it Important to File the FAFSA Early?
Students and their families should file the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1 for the next school year. October 1 is not a deadline, so much as a start date, but students who file the FAFSA later may miss out on some forms of financial aid.
Students who file the FAFSA during the first three months tend to get twice as much in grants, on average, as compared with students who file the FAFSA later. Much of the aid available is on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Apart from the monetary benefits, here are a few more reasons to file early…
1. Some federal student aid runs out
While federal student loans and the Federal Pell Grant function like an entitlement, federal campus-based aid is more limited. Each college gets a fixed allocation of Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work-Study (FWS) funding, so the money can run out.
And, of course, you or your child are not alone in applying:
2. Individual state grants may have early FAFSA deadlines
Some state financial aid programs have very early FAFSA deadlines.
For the 2021-22 academic year, a dozen states award state grants as soon as possible on or after October 1, 2020, or until funds are depleted:
- Alaska (AK)
- Illinois (IL)
- Indiana (IN)
- Kentucky (KY)
- Nevada (NV)
- North Carolina (NC)
- North Dakota (ND)
- Oregon (OR)
- Oklahoma (OK)
- South Carolina (SC)
- Vermont (VT)
- Washington (WA)
An additional 11 states have deadlines in December 2021, January 2021, February 2021, or March 2021:
- California (CA)
- Connecticut (CT)
- Idaho (ID)
- Maryland (MD)
- Michigan (MI)
- Missouri (MO)
- Montana (MT)
- Tennessee (TN)
- Texas (TX)
- West Virginia (WV)
- Utah (UT)
3. College can have early FAFSA deadlines
Some colleges also have early financial aid deadlines, sometimes called a “priority deadline,” for the college’s own financial aid funds. Even when the college FAFSA deadlines are earlier, the colleges must still use the government FAFSA deadlines for federal and state aid.
About 200 mostly private colleges and universities use a supplemental form (the College Scholarship Service Profile), for awarding their own financial aid funds. These colleges must still use the FAFSA for federal and state aid. The CSS Profile has the same October 1 start date as the FAFSA.
Getting an FSA ID early
An FSA ID (an electronic signature used to sign the FAFSA and federal education loan promissory notes) is necessary to sign and submit your FAFSA application online, and can be requested at any time.
Again, you do not need to wait for the official FAFSA start date (October 1 to retrieve your FSA ID.
And it’s a good idea to get an FSA ID before October 1, because students and parents have reported problems with getting or using an FSA ID.
Families have also reported problems with expiring FSA IDs and updating the FSA ID’s password. Your FSA ID must be renewed every 18 months.
What Happens if you Miss the FAFSA Deadline?
Students have until June 30 or the end of the academic year to fill out the FAFSA.
Missing the FAFSA deadline isn’t good. If you don’t submit the form by the June 30 deadline, you likely won’t be eligible to receive federal financial aid. You’ll have to wait until October 1 to submit the form to receive aid for the next academic year.
As we mentioned above, many states and colleges have FAFSA deadlines that come earlier than the deadline set by the federal government. Some state programs start paying out funds as soon as applications open, so it’s in your best interest to submit your application early.
If you miss the deadline for your state or college, it’s still worth the effort of filling out the FAFSA and submitting it. Some states and schools may still have funds to provide to late applicants.
But, the amount you receive is likely to be lower than it would have been if you’d applied before the deadline.
In short, missing the FAFSA deadline means you may not qualify for student aid or that you’ll receive a lower amount in funds.
Of course that doesn’t mean that there isn’t financial assistance available. If you check with your school’s finance office they may be able to connect you with local scholarship and grant providers or an emergency loan fund that you can use to pay for some of your expenses.
Regardless of why you missed the FAFSA deadline, take some steps to make sure you don’t miss it again. Gather the necessary information before the October 1 release of the FAFSA for the next academic year and submit your application as quickly as possible.
Do You Have to Fill Out the FAFSA?
Students are not obligated to fill out the FAFSA. If, for any reason, you don’t want to submit the form, you do not have to. But, failing to submit the FAFSA will mean you won’t receive federal student aid like subsidized loans and grants.
A popular reason for not filling out the FAFSA is believing that you or your family will not be eligible for aid, so there’s little reason to take the time to fill it out. Almost one million students fail to fill out the FAFSA each year, even though they would have been eligible for some form of financial aid. Even students from families with more assets or higher incomes, who may not qualify for grants, can get subsidized student loans that help them save on interest costs.
Filling out the FAFSA is also a good idea, even if you know you won’t receive any aid. If your family’s financial situation changes, having a FAFSA on file can help you get aid in the future. If your financial situation changes significantly, you can ask for a reconsideration of your financial aid package. If you never submitted the FAFSA, you won’t be eligible for aid, meaning you can’t ask for a reconsideration.
Some colleges also require that students fill out the FAFSA to qualify for any kind of financial aid, including merit-based scholarships. If that’s true of your school, you should make sure to fill out the form every year.
Can Filling Out the FAFSA Hurt You?
A common myth is that filling out the FAFSA can actually hurt your chances of getting financial aid or getting into the school of your choice.
The truth is that filling out the FAFSA will not make it harder to qualify for aid or get into a school.
Even if your family is well-off, filling out the FAFSA is the only way to find out if you qualify for federal student aid. If you don’t fill out the form, you definitely won’t get aid. Filling out the form gives you at least a chance of getting loans and grants. Some schools also require it for merit-based aid like scholarships. Your college won’t rescind a merit-based scholarship because of the information in your FAFSA.
Typically, schools will not use the information contained in your FAFSA when making a decision about whether to admit you. Many of the largest, most prestigious schools in the country (such as MIT, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale) use a need-blind admissions process, which means that a student’s financial need plays no role in their chances of getting into the school.
Years ago, there were some reports of schools using information contained in the FAFSA, such as the ordering of schools in the student’s list of schools to send information to, when making admission decisions. Overall, this practice is rare and the financial aid that the FAFSA can provide makes it more than worth submitting the form.
Ways to Get Financial Aid Outside the FAFSA
The FAFSA is just one piece of the college financial aid puzzle. While you may qualify for federal grants and student loans by submitting the FAFSA, there are many ways to get financial aid outside of the FAFSA process.
Scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for your education because they’re free money. There’s no obligation to repay them like there is with a student loan.
Many schools offer merit-based scholarships but there are also third parties that will give scholarships to members of their community. Use a scholarship search website to look for scholarships that you can apply for and keep an eye out in your local community for groups and local businesses that offer scholarships.
Private student loans are another way to pay for school, though they generally don’t offer the same benefits as federal loans, such as loan forgiveness options. If your FAFSA aid isn’t enough to cover the cost of school, you can consider a private student loan.
Also, think about other ways that you can help pay for school. Many students get jobs during the school year or work a summer job. This can be a great way to earn money to pay for your college expenses and get job experience that will help you find a job after graduation.
Filling out the FAFSA is important for anyone who wants to attend college. It’s one of the best ways to qualify for financial aid, including grants and subsidized student loans.
Submitting the form as early as possible is important because it can improve your chances of getting larger grants and aid. Submitting it before the deadline is essential as failing to submit the FAFSA could leave you having to pay for a year of college out of your own pocket, with no financial aid.