When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

Early is better when filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

When filling out the FAFSA, earlier is better.
When filling out the FAFSA, earlier is better. JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

If you're applying to college in the United States, you should fill out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. At nearly all schools, the FAFSA is the basis for need-based financial aid awards. The state and federal submission dates for the FAFSA changed significantly in 2016. You can now apply in October rather than waiting until January.

When and How to Fill Out the FAFSA

The federal deadline for the FAFSA is June 30th, but you should apply much earlier than that.

In order to receive the highest amount of aid, you should submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible as of October 1st of the year before you will be attending college. This is because most colleges award some kinds of aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Colleges can and will check to see when you submitted your FAFSA and will award aid accordingly. In the past, many college applicants put off filling out the FAFSA until their families had completed their taxes since the form asks for tax information. However, this is not necessary because of the changes made to the FAFSA in 2016.

You can now use your prior-prior year tax return when filling out the FAFSA. For example, if you're planning to enter college in the fall of 2018, you can fill out your FAFSA beginning October 1st of 2017 using your 2016 tax return.

Before you sit down to fill out the application, make sure you have gathered all the documents you'll need to answer all the FAFSA questions.

This will make the process much more efficient and less frustrating.

It is important to note that colleges that offer institutional aid often will require you to submit different forms in addition to the FAFSA. Be sure to check with your school's financial aid office to know exactly what kinds of aid are available and what you can do to receive them.

If you receive any information requests from your college related to financial aid, make sure you respond as quickly as possible. This will help ensure that you get the maximum amount of financial aid and that you get it on time. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact your school's financial aid office.

NOTE: When submitting the FAFSA, make sure you are submitting it for the right year. All too often, parents or students will run into problems after accidentally sending in the FAFSA for the wrong school year.

Get started with your application at the FAFSA website.

State Deadlines for the FAFSA

Although the federal deadline for filing the FAFSA is June 30th, state deadlines are often much earlier than end of June, and students who put off filing the FAFSA may find that they are ineligible for many types of financial aid. The table below provides a sample of some state deadlines, but be sure to check with the FAFSA website to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.

Sample FAFSA Deadlines

StateDeadlines
AlaskaAlaska Education Grants are awarded soon after October 1st. Awards are made until funds are depleted.
ArkansasAcademic Challenge and Higher Education Opportunity Grants have a June 1st deadline.
CaliforniaMany state programs have a March 2nd deadline.
ConnecticutFor priority consideration, submit the FAFSA by February 15th.
DelawareApril 15th
FloridaMay 15th
IdahoMarch 1st deadline for the state's Opportunity Grant
IllinoisSubmit the FAFSA as soon after October 1st as possible. Awards are made until funds are depleted.
IndianaMarch 10th
KentuckyAs soon after October 1st as possible. Awards are made until funds are depleted.
MaineMay 1st
MassachusettsMay 1st
MissouriFebruary 1st for priority consideration. Applications accepted through April 2nd.
North CarolinaAs soon after October 1st as possible. Awards are made until funds are depleted.
South CarolinaAs soon after October 1st as possible. Awards are made until funds are depleted.
Washington StateAs soon after October 1st as possible. Awards are made until funds are depleted.

Other Sources for Financial Aid

The FAFSA is essential for nearly all state, federal, and institutional financial aid awards. Keep in mind, however, that there are millions of dollars of college scholarship funds out there awarded by private organizations. Cappex is a reputable free service where you can get personalized scholarship matches from over $11 billion in awards. You can also browse through the many college scholarship lists here on ThoughtCo.