You Could Be Missing Out on Free Student Aid if You Skip This Deadline

A parent and child fill out FASFA information on a laptop.
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If college students were superheroes, deadlines would be their kryptonite.

Sure, some students thrive under a deadline, but most just suffer under the weight of the looming task before frantically pounding out a half-hearted assignment with only minutes to spare.

But there are upcoming deadlines you’ll want to add to your calendar now — and yes, it’s a little confusing, but we’ll explain: :

For the 2019-20 school year: If your information on your 2019-20 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is incorrect or outdated, you may be eligible to have your financial aid adjusted for the school year that just ended. You’ll need to submit corrections for your 2019-20 FAFSA by Sept. 12, 2020.

For the 2020-21 school year: The deadline to submit the FAFSA for the upcoming (2020-21) school year is June 30, 2021. “That deadline isn’t until next year!” you say. But the sooner you get your application in, the more likely you can still claim some of that money.

For the 2021-22 school year: The first day to submit the FAFSA for the 2021-22 school year is Oct. 1. Why should you care about the opening day? Many schools award their financial aid money within weeks (or days) of the FAFSA opening. So even though the deadline isn’t until June 30, 2022, here’s your chance to get your paperwork in order so you can be first in line for financial aid.

Wait — What Is FAFSA, Again?

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

In simplest terms, the FAFSA is the form you fill out to get your financial information all in one place. In turn, that information lets the people with the money know you need financial aid, including federal student loans, scholarships, grants or work-study opportunities.

Many states and colleges will use your FAFSA information to determine whether you are eligible for state or school aid, and some private providers also use it to see if you qualify for their financial aid.

Pro Tip

Although each college may have its own deadline, you can prepare for the upcoming year by checking out the 2019-20 FAFSA deadlines by state available here.

You’ll want to check here for your state’s and with your college’s financial aid office for theirs..

Filling out and submitting your FAFSA is totally free, and you really shouldn’t skip it — even if the process seems intimidating. In years past, students across the U.S. have left as much as $2.3 billion (yep, with a “b”) in student aid on the table by neglecting to fill out their financial information.

What FAFSA Deadlines Should I Know About?

The opening date for applying for FAFSA every year is Oct. 1 (that update came in 2016), which allows applicants plenty of time to submit their financial information before schools begin sending out financial aid offers.

Additionally, applicants can use financial information from the previous year’s tax season (that’s also new as of 2016). This means that if you were planning to attend college starting in fall 2020, you would have used your (or your parents’) 2018 tax information (the information they filed in early 2019).

The FAFSA application cycle lasts 21 months, opening on October 1 before the school year begins and closing on June 30 of that school year.

Confused yet? Yeah, you and everybody else.

Because the full submission period stretches more than a year and a half for each school year, many of the dates, deadlines and submission periods overlap. Thanks to the jumbled timeline, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed and give up or forget about the deadlines entirely.

Here’s a breakdown to help you figure out which year’s form you should be filling out for which application deadline, using which financial information.

If you will attend college between: You should submit the: Using income and tax information from: Sometime between:
July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021 2020-2021 FAFSA 2018 (filed early 2019) Oct. 1, 2019 - June 30, 2021
July 1, 2021 - June 30, 2022 2021-2022 FAFSA 2019 (filed early 2020) nOct. 1, 2020 - June 30, 2022n
July 1, 2022 - June 30, 2023 n2022-2023 FAFSAn n2020 (filed early 2021)n nOct. 1, 2021 - June 30, 2023n

While you have a pretty wide window for submitting your application, the earlier you submit it, the better your chances of securing aid offers will be. The federal deadline is in the summer, but most schools send out their aid offers during the previous winter months.

“Every school has a priority deadline,” says Erin Dunn, campus director of financial aid, scholarships and veterans services at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus. “When a student applies by that priority deadline, they’re considered for the maximum amounts and types of financial aid available.”

While federal aid may still be offered as late as the June 30 deadline, you should check with your school of choice to see when it requires FAFSA to be submitted each year to be considered for school-related financial help.

Why Should I Submit the FAFSA for the Previous Year After the School Year Is Over?

If you filled out the 2019-20 FAFSA, you still have time to fill out the corrected info on your FAFSA application. The deadline for corrected FAFSA is Sept. 12, 2020 — you should contact your school directly to ask them to review your updated information.

But should you even bother filling it out this late?

“Absolutely, fill it out, because if you don’t try then you don’t know what you may be eligible for,” Dunn says.

Even this late in the year, you could receive retroactive financial aid.

While filing right before the final deadline means you missed out on any student aid you might have received from your school, you may still be eligible for Pell Grants or other forms of federal aid.

Plus, filling out the FAFSA takes all of about an hour — and we’ve got a guide that will help you fill it out in eight easy steps.

Just remember, when it comes to the FAFSA, earlier is always better.

So, if your information on your form was inaccurate for this past school year, you should file the 2019-2020 corrected FAFSA before Sept. 12, 2020.

Then, fill out the separate 2020-2021 FAFSA (which has been open since Oct. 1, 2019).

Once you’re caught up on those, you’ll be back on track and ready to fill out the 2021-2022 application as soon as it opens in October.

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.