Although it may seem intimidating at first, the process of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is critical and, ultimately, very worthwhile. Submitting the FAFSA early is a helpful step in managing the cost of higher education.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is a free application you fill out and submit to qualify for financial aid. It’s what the federal government, states, and colleges use to determine your eligibility for grants, student loans, and work-study programs.
Wondering how the FAFSA works? It asks questions about your family, household income, and assets. After you submit the form, it issues you a Student Aid Report (SAR that summarizes your FAFSA and lists your expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is an index number that schools use to design your financial aid package.
Some scholarships and grants issued by non-profit organizations or private companies base awards on your financial need. They often require a copy of your SAR to calculate your award.
[Note: The EFC is expected to be replaced by the Student Aid Index for the 2024-2025 academic year.]
Reasons You Should Apply for FAFSA Early
The FAFSA does have deadlines, but you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to submit the FAFSA. Applying as early as you can after the FAFSA opens — it opens each year on October 1 — is important for the following reasons:
1. Financial Aid is a Limited Resource
The federal deadline for the 2023-2024 academic year is June 30, 2024. If you can submit the FAFSA as late as June, why is it better to apply for FAFSA early? The main reason is that some federal, state, and institutional aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. For example:
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): Each year, the U.S. Department of Education gives participating colleges a pool of money to fund FSEOG awards. Eligible students with financial needs can qualify for between $100 and $4,000 in grants. But once the full amount of the school’s allotted funds run out, they’re gone.
- Georgia: The Georgia Student Access Loan is a low-interest loan — it has a fixed interest rate of just 1% — for students attending eligible schools. The selection of applicants is made on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you apply late, there may not be any funds left.
- North Carolina: The North Carolina Education Lottery Scholarship is given to North Carolina students that meet the eligibility requirements for federal Pell Grants based on their FAFSA. Consideration for funding is automatic once you submit the FAFSA, but funding is limited; once the program runs out of money, no more scholarships will be granted.
- Tennessee: The Tennessee Student Assistance Award is a state-funded grant program established to provide non-repayable financial assistance to financially-needy undergraduate students who are residents of Tennessee. Award recipients must attend an eligible Tennessee school, college, or university and be enrolled at least half-time. The eligible institution must be listed as your first choice when you initially complete your FAFSA.
While the federal deadline isn’t until June 30, 2024, states and schools may have earlier deadlines. For example, Idaho recommended applying by March 1, 2023, for the 2023-2024 academic year.
The FAFSA for the upcoming academic year opens on October 1 of the preceding year. For example, the 2023-2024 FAFSA opened on October 1, 2022.
To be considered an early submission — and to maximize your chances of qualifying for aid — submit between October 1 and November 30.
2. Easier Decision Process for Picking Schools
By submitting your FAFSA early, you can get a head start on the college decision-making process. Because you already submitted the FAFSA, schools can send you your financial aid offer letter sooner. That benefit makes it easier to compare offers from different colleges and find out which school has the lowest overall cost.
3. More Grant & Financial Aid Money
Submitting the FAFSA soon after it opens on October 1 can help you secure more financial aid, including grants that don’t have to be repaid.
Saving for College reported that students who file the FAFSA during the first three months after it opens — so October through December — tended to get twice as many grants, on average, as students who filed their FAFSA later.
4. Reduce Your To-Do List as You Finish High School
Your senior year of high school can be incredibly stressful. You have lots of things to do, including:
- Taking the SAT or ACT
- Writing college essays
- Collecting letters of recommendation
- Touring college campuses
- Filling out college applications
- Filling out the FAFSA
If you submit the FAFSA in the Fall of your senior year, you can cross a major item off your to-do list and focus on other tasks.
5. Get your Student Aid Report Faster
After submitting the FAFSA, you can view your Student Aid Report (SAR). It provides basic details about your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and your eligibility for financial aid, including federal Pell Grants.
6. Start Applying for Other Scholarships Faster
The federal government, state education agencies, and colleges use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal student loans, grants, some scholarships, and work-study programs. After being accepted for enrollment, you’ll receive information from each college that details your financial aid options.
You may find that you need additional aid. By filling out the FAFSA early, you’ll give yourself more time to focus on completing third-party scholarship and grant applications. You can search for available opportunities using The College Board’s BigFuture scholarship tool.
7. Avoid Unnecessary Stress
Trying to fill out the FAFSA at the last minute can be stressful, and you run the risk of unforeseen challenges like computer glitches or system outages affecting your ability to submit it by the deadline. If you fill it out soon after it opens on October 1, you can reduce or eliminate stress since you know it’s done.
Don’t Miss the FAFSA Deadlines
Before the FAFSA opens on October 1, make a note of submission deadlines. States and schools can have FAFSA deadlines that are much earlier in the year than you’d expect — some as early as December or January for priority consideration — so check with your school to see when you need to complete the FAFSA.
Other FAFSA Tips
If you’re worried about how to pay for college, filling out the FAFSA is critical. While some people assume their families make too much money to qualify for financial aid, the FAFSA doesn’t have a maximum income limit. Plus, if you choose not to fill out the FAFSA, you’ll automatically miss out on federal aid, including student loans or state aid programs that utilize the FAFSA as the state application.
If you need help completing the FAFSA, check out these resources:
- Apply online at FAFSA.gov
- The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has a checklist you can use to ensure you have everything you need and a list of common FAFSA mistakes to avoid.
- If you have trouble with your application and need help, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4‐FED AID (1-800-433-3243).
What if You Don’t Need FAFSA?
Even if you don’t think you’ll need financial aid, it’s a good idea to fill the FAFSA out anyway. The FAFSA isn’t a commitment; you can decide to turn down awards later if you don’t need them. But you may be surprised by how much financial aid you can receive, and schools often use the FAFSA for their grant and scholarship programs.
Apply for Student Loans with ELFI
After completing the FAFSA, colleges will send you financial aid packages. If you find that your financial aid award isn’t enough to cover the cost, private student loans can help cover the gap so you can focus on your education.
ELFI offers loans for both students and parent borrowers, and you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance.* If you meet the requirements for private student loans, you can take out a loan with competitive rates and loan terms between five and 15 years (a maximum of 10 years for parent loans).
Get a quote online — without affecting your credit score — with the Find My Rate tool.
The post Why Should You File FAFSA As Early As Possible appeared first on Education Loan Finance.