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Keep an eye on the clock: Some states have first-come, first-served deadlines for college aid.
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It's tempting to put off filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, since you have to spend 20 or 30 minutes just to get your special ID number, then gather all your family's financial documents and answer more than 100 tedious questions about income, investments, and taxes.

Tempting, and expensive. FAFSA procrastination can cost you literally thousands of dollars in missed scholarships or grants. Plus, policy changes this year that allow you to use older tax information will make answering those 100 questions a lot faster, thanks to an IRS-linked auto-retrieval tool.

So when should you file the FAFSA? Each college, state or local agency, and scholarship foundation can have a different deadline, but here are some general rules and information on the states with the earliest deadlines.

For the 2017-18 academic year, you can file your FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016 or as late as June 30, 2018. In other words, you can retroactively apply for and receive federal financial aid—student loans and, if you qualify, need-based grants—as late as a few weeks after your spring semester ended.

But waiting that long will mean you'll miss out on aid from lots of other organizations that give out scholarships and have much tighter deadlines. Filing by December gives you a much better chance of getting more and bigger scholarships from state agencies, schools, and foundations.

Several states, for example, have “first-come, first-served” financial aid programs that can run out of money quickly. And at least eight state agencies have winter deadlines for their scholarship programs.

If you live in any of the states listed below, fill out your FAFSA as early as possible and have it sent to your colleges and state scholarship agencies.

View Sample

To find out your exact deadlines, call the schools you're applying to, and check resources like the general state FAFSA deadline list maintained by the U.S. Department of Education or this site's tool with links to each state’s scholarship agency.

Here’s a list of the states whose residents will gain the most by filing early:

State Deadline
Alaska ASAP, as aid is first-come, first-served
California March 2, 2017
Connecticut Feb. 15, 2017
Idaho March 1, 2017
Illinois ASAP, as aid is first-come, first-served
Kentucky ASAP as aid is first-come, first-served
Maryland March 1, 2017
Michigan March 1, 2017
North Carolina ASAP, as aid is first-come, first-served
Oklahoma March 1, 2017
Oregon ASAP, as aid is first-come, first-served
Rhode Island March 1, 2017
South Carolina ASAP, as aid is first-come, first-served
Tennessee Jan. 17, 2017
Vermont ASAP, as aid is first-come, first-served
Washington ASAP, as aid is first-come, first-served
West Virginia March 1, 2017

This story was updated 12/16/15 to correct the deadline and reason to file early in Tennessee.