The 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid opens on Jan. 1 and closes in June 2017. But don’t wait until the last minute to submit your application or you could miss important FAFSA deadlines and extra financial aid dollars.
That’s because states and schools use the FAFSA to award grants and scholarships, and those funds are typically doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. The sooner after Jan. 1 that you file, the more money you could receive. So pause your Netflix and start filling out your FAFSA.
Deadlines vary by school and often fall in March, two months after the application opens, though some could be as early as January. If you have already decided on a school, check its website or with its financial aid office for its FAFSA application deadline. If you are still choosing among schools, check with all of them and submit your FAFSA by the earliest date to ensure you receive the most financial aid wherever you decide to attend.
Tip: Find out all necessary deadlines, then mark them on your phone’s calendar and set a reminder alert for a week or two before to ensure that you submit your materials on time.
State deadlines also vary widely. While some states give students until the end of June to submit their FAFSA, others have much earlier deadlines. In California, for example, the FAFSA cutoff for most state aid is typically March 1. And Connecticut usually sets Feb. 15 as the deadline for priority consideration. The deadline for your school or program of choice might fall before the state deadline, so plan to meet the earliest date to avoid missing out on funding.
Check fafsa.ed.gov or the sidebar on your paper FAFSA application for your state’s deadline.
This is the absolute latest you can file your FAFSA and still receive funding. For the 2016-17 school year, you must complete the FAFSA by June 30, 2017, the last day of that academic year. Corrections and updates to your 2016-2017 FAFSA are due mid-September 2017.
Waiting until the end of the academic year to submit the FAFSA is certainly not the norm, says Dean Obenauer, assistant director of financial aid at Creighton University.
“I have seen families submit the FAFSA after school has started and sometimes not until the spring semester,” Obenauer says. “I have never seen anyone submit the FAFSA on June 30 for financial consideration for enrollment prior to June 30.”
It’s also important to note that while you can qualify for federal aid through the last day of the academic year, you will likely miss out on any state or institutional funds.
Summer session deadlines
Schools either count summer session as the start of the academic year or as the end of it. So check with your college to see which year’s FAFSA application to complete in order to receive aid for the summer.
“Some schools will consider summer as a trailing session or the last term of the academic year. For example, if a student was applying for financial aid for the summer of ’17, they would have until June 30, 2017, to submit the 2016-17 FAFSA in this case,” Obenauer says. “Other schools may consider summer as the beginning term of the new year, in which case the 2017-18 FAFSA would be required for summer ’17.”
Students will be able to file their 2017-18 FAFSA beginning Oct. 1, 2016 — a change from current and prior application cycles, which have opened on Jan. 1 each year.
FAFSA Renewal deadlines
You have to submit the FAFSA each school year that you want to receive financial aid. The same deadlines apply whether you are renewing your FAFSA or starting from scratch. Once you’ve submitted the form, you can fill out a FAFSA Renewal in subsequent years. A FAFSA Renewal will pre-fill your information from previous years, but review the form to make sure it’s up to date.
This article first appeared at NerdWallet.