The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (a.k.a the FAFSA) is a vital part of the college application process. If you skip it, you could be missing out on grants, scholarships, work-study and low-interest federal student loans. While the application typically opens every year on Oct. 1, it’s not due until several weeks — and in many cases — months later.
Even so, getting your FAFSA form done in a timely manner is important so you don’t miss out on crucial financial aid. That's because the FAFSA isn’t only for federal aid. Colleges also use it to determine state and institutional aid, and some private scholarships also require the form.
In other words, the FAFSA can open doors to all kinds of cash. Don’t assume you don’t qualify for financial aid, even if you’re a higher earner — but if you’re just now filling it out now for next fall, you may have missed out on state and institutional aid. Here’s what to know about the three types of deadlines:
The federal FAFSA deadline falls at the end of the academic year
The federal deadline for the FAFSA falls each year on June 30. This is the deadline for all the federal aid programs, including Pell Grants for lower-income students and all types of federal student loans.
FAFSA Deadline for 2022-2023 academic year
For current college students, that means they have until June 30, 2023 to apply using the 2022-23 FAFSA application — procrastinators unite! Just make sure you fill out the form for the correct year. Financial aid from colleges and state programs was allocated long ago, but even at this 11th hour you may still qualify for a partial or even full Pell Grant if your spring semester is still in session (most colleges on the semester system have finished up for the year, however). Federal student loans are disbursed differently, and the amount is determined by your college. Bottom line, if you’re looking for aid for the 2022-23 year, file that FAFSA — it might not be too late. Your college's financial aid office can answer questions.
FAFSA Deadline for 2023-2024 academic year
For students heading to college in the fall of 2023, the federal deadline is June 30, 2024 — that’s 21 months after this fall’s FAFSA opened. But don’t put it off until next year. Fill it out now even if you’ve missed your state and institutional deadlines (more about that below). Again, make sure you fill out the correct form at StudentAid.gov; it’s easy to mix up the years.
For the 2024-25 FAFSA, which opens in the fall, things will look a little different. The FAFSA is undergoing a major overhaul, and as a result, the release of the form will be delayed until December. (We’ll cover the details of the update in another article — stay tuned.)
State FAFSA deadlines vary widely
State financial aid — for students applying to colleges in their home state — is another important source of financial aid, and these deadlines fall much earlier than the federal deadline. Some states even award aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so you should apply as early as possible, regardless of the deadline. Thirteen states recommend submitting your FAFSA as soon after Oct. 1 as possible for access to certain grants. They are Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Other state deadlines range from February to October of the following year.
“State financial aid programs vary enormously,” says Jeff Levy, co-founder of BigJ Educational Consulting. “The programs are different, the award amounts are different, the deadlines are different, and which schools will accept them are different.”
According to a 2021 report from the College Board, a non-profit organization that handles the SAT and other standardized testing, five states accounted for 48% of state aid awarded in 2019 — California, New York, Texas, Florida and Georgia. But nearly every state has some type of grant or scholarship — sometimes several — to encourage students to attend college in state.
State aid can be based on financial need, a combination of need and merit, or merit only without financial need as a consideration, such as Georgia’s Hope Grant. You can research your state higher education agency with this interactive map.
Many states and cities also have “promise” programs, which offer free or reduced tuition to residents that meet certain eligibility criteria. Often, they’re reserved for students attending two-year colleges, but some apply to four-year institutions, including programs in New York, North Carolina and New Mexico. Check out College Promise’s map to see a thorough list of programs.
College financial aid deadlines are equally important
Colleges give out thousands of dollars in their own institutional aid every year, particularly private non-profit colleges. In fact, “the largest source of grants and scholarships for college students comes from the institutions themselves,” Levy says.
Here again, FAFSA deadlines vary from school to school, and there can even be multiple deadlines at the same school depending on which application round you’re in.
“For example, if a student is applying in the early decision round at a particular college, the financial aid deadline may be as early as Nov. 1,” Levy says. “If they’re applying in the regular decision round to the same college, the financial aid deadline may be as late as January or February.” (With the later FAFSA release for students applying for the 2024-25 year, the November deadlines will likely remain the same, but the colleges “will not be able to make official offers of financial aid until several weeks after the student is able to submit their FAFSA, possibly as late as January,” Levy says.)
Even if you’re not applying early decision, colleges may have priority deadlines for institutional scholarships. Because you only submit the FAFSA once, you’ll need to submit it and any other required forms as early as you’re able to among the colleges you're applying to, Levy says.
The bottom line: There’s no singular FAFSA deadline, so pay attention to deadlines in your state and at the colleges you’re applying to.