FAFSA Advice for College-Bound Kids: Apply Sooner Rather Than Later

The good news for parents and their college-bound kids: The U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) makes it relatively easy to apply for federal, state, and many institutions’ financial aid opportunities in a single session. This one-stop shopping certainly beats having to submit separate applications for each source of funding!

The catch? While you are generally required to submit your FAFSA application for the 2020–2021 academic year by June 30, 2020, you are permitted to do so any time after October 1, 2019.

If you’re busy with a million other things—and who isn’t?—you might be tempted to let your application slide until, say, after the holidays. We caution against doing so. The sooner you apply for FAFSA after October 1, the more likely your efforts will pay off. 

As reported recently by SavingforCollege.com publisher and VP of Research Mark Kantrowitz: “Students who file the FAFSA during the first three months tend to get twice as much grants, on average, as compared with students who file the FAFSA later.”

This caveat applies to the federal level on down. “While federal student loans and the Federal Pell Grant function like an entitlement, federal campus-based aid is more limited,” says Kantrowitz. For example, federal funds for work-study programs and other opportunities come from a single “pie,” which can end up being consumed before latecomers arrive at the table.

In addition, many states operate on a first-come, first-served basis. These states begin granting their awards after October 1, until the funds are gone. Other states have application cutoffs earlier than June 30, again warranting a timely FAFSA to qualify for their funds.

In California, our state's deadline for grant applications is generally around the first few days of March. Contact the California Student Aid Commission or your financial aid administrator for information.

You can look up other states’ requirements here. Similarly, individual colleges may have earlier deadlines if you would like to be given “priority consideration” for their financial aid funds.

In short, financial aid is one window of opportunity worth leaping through as soon as it opens. To hit the ground running, obtain your FSA ID now, which will facilitate completing your FAFSA application as soon as October 1 arrives.

Before I wrap up, I’ll add a caveat from the Department of Education’s FAFSA application instructions. As the Department of Education emphasizes: “One thing you don’t need for the FAFSA® form is money! The FAFSA form is FREE, so if a website or mobile app asks you to pay to fill it out, you’re not dealing with the official FAFSA site or the official myStudentAid app.”

In today’s climate of heightened security risks, that’s a critical point.

Please let us know if you could use additional assistance as you plan for your own or your children’s higher-education funding. Given the costs involved, a well-crafted strategy can pay for itself many times over. 

Schedule a complimentary 15-minute call with a fee-only financial planner to discuss your situation.