The FAFSA Deadline Is Looming — Submit Yours ASAP

Photographed by Rachel Cabitt
College students that have just gotten into the swing of summer probably don't want to think too much about the upcoming school year or the one that's just ended. Still, those who need the money would be wise to pay attention to the federal student aid deadline: the last day to file the FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year is June 30, 2018. If you need money for the school year that's just finished, you still have time to request federal aid.
Research from Sallie Mae shows that a high of 86% of families filled out the form in 2016, indicating a growing awareness of accessing aid or a greater need for financial assistance. The government issues upwards of $150 billion in aid each year, but it's a finite resource — and time sensitive. Here's why you should file ASAP if you haven't, or get started on 2018-2019 if you can.
What are the specific deadlines?
The FAFSA can be filled out online, or PDF and paper forms can be sent via snail mail. Online applications for federal aid must be submitted (not necessarily processed) by midnight Central Time on June 30, 2018. Corrections or updates must be submitted roughly two months later, by midnight CST on September 15, 2018. The federal deadlines for aid for the 2018-2019 academic year are June 30, 2019, with corrections or updates needing to be submitted by September 14, 2019.
Some deadlines may vary by state, and certain colleges also have deadlines that are different than those. Go to the Federal Student Aid website to see if your state's deadline differs from the federal one, and check your college for theirs. "You may also want to ask your college about its definition of an application deadline — whether it is the date the college receives your FAFSA, or the date your FAFSA is processed," the website advises.
The FAFSA is complicated. Does it really matter if I skip it? I'll probably still have loans anyway.
Nerdwallet found that nearly 650,000 high school grads eligible for Pell grants didn't fill out the FAFSA in the 2016-2017 academic year, missing out on more than $2.3 million in grants, scholarship, and work-study resources.
"Missing out on free financial aid could mean taking on more debt to pay for college or graduate school," Nerdwallet explains. "[The FAFSA is] also the only way to borrow federal student loans, which tend to have lower interest rates, more repayment options and more borrower protections than private loans."
Yes, the form is woefully confusing to many people, but the government is attempting to simplify it. Plus, the money is yours for the borrowing if you're eligible! Leave it on the table and even less of it may be available in the future, depending on direction Congress takes in the coming years.
Well, what if I'm unlikely to qualify. Should I still fill it out?
Still, yes. As Mark Kantrowitz, a college admissions and financial aid expert, told U.S. News, "There is no explicit income cutoff. And different types of aid have different awarding criteria." Students who aren't from low-income families may be eligible for Pell grants, but they could get work-study or federal loans — options that, once again, often carry far less intimidating interest rates than private student loans.
Why file ASAP?
Because a handful of states have different filing dates from the federal one and disburse a set amount of money each year, how much aid students get may be on a first-come, first-served basis until the money runs out. Filing early gives you the best chance of getting more financial aid.
The other reason to file as soon as you can is that it'll give you a buffer to make changes. If you make a mistake on the form or get updated information, you'll still have a window of time to amend your submission. Cut it too close to the deadline and you could miss that opportunity, impacting your chance to get the best aid package possible, based on the most accurate data.
CNBC and a host of other websites note common FAFSA errors families and individuals make, so look out, submit your form, and hang tight. The office of Federal Student Aid has general deadlines for when you can check your application (based on how it was submitted) and the Student Aid Report (SAR), giving you an indication of your federal aid eligibility.

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