The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on October 1 of the fall before you start school. So, if you are enrolling in fall 2018, you can complete the FAFSA as early as October 1, 2017. You can complete a FAFSA up until the end of your school year to be considered for federal student aid, but you shouldn’t wait until then as some aid is first-come, first-served.
At least three other organizations might have deadlines for you to submit the FAFSA that are significantly earlier than the FAFSA application window. Missing these key deadlines could mean missing out on a large chunk of financial aid—which is funding that many cannot afford to attend college without.
1. State Deadlines
The vast majority of states have their own deadline by which the FAFSA must be completed in order to be considered for state-based financial aid. Lots of states have grant programs for students who attend college in the same state in which they are residents. So, if you are not aware of your state's deadline, you could miss out on helpful grants and other programs. To find out your state's FAFSA deadline, use this helpful tool: FAFSA State Deadlines.
2. College And University Deadlines
Each college or university sets its own financial aid deadline. These deadlines can differ for prospective students, current students, and transfer students.
Prospective freshman and community college transfer students should take note of each school's application deadline AND financial aid deadline; chances are, the two are not the same. Additionally, take note of what information the school requires for its financial aid deadline: Is it just the FAFSA? Does the school also require the CSS Profile? Are there different deadlines for the FAFSA and CSS Profile?
Existing college students should be aware of their reapplication deadline for their current school. To be on the safe side, complete the FAFSA as soon as you can after the application opens on October 1 to avoid missing out on financial aid.
3. Scholarship Deadlines
After you complete the FAFSA, you'll receive a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR). Many scholarships will require copies of this to verify your family's household income. If you wait until the last minute to complete the FAFSA, then you may not receive your SAR in time to meet the scholarship deadline. The best thing to do here is to start your scholarship search earlier in the year, so you'll know which information each different application requires.
Other deadlines aside, many students don't realize that some student financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. In short, you could totally miss out on your opportunity to receive money simply by not applying early enough.