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

Someone filling out Financial Aid Application form
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If college students were superheros, 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 here’s a deadline you really don’t want to cut close (or worse, miss entirely):

The deadline to submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for the 2017-2018 year is June 30, 2018.

(Don’t let those dates confuse you though. I’ll explain further down why it’s still important to submit your application even though the school year is over.)

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, federal student loans, 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 there are even some private providers that will use it to see if you qualify for their financial aid.

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?

Before 2016, the FAFSA opened every year on January 1. In 2016, the opening date for applying was changed to October 1, which allows applicants plenty of time to submit their financial information before schools begin sending out financial aid offers.

Additionally, beginning with the 2017-2018 FAFSA, applicants can use financial information from the previous year’s tax season. This means that if you were planning to attend college starting in fall 2017, you would have used your (or your parents’) 2015 tax information (the information they filed in early 2016).

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, 2017 - June 30, 2018n 2017-2018 FAFSA 2015 (filed early 2016) October 1, 2016 - June 30, 2018
July 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019 2018-2019 FAFSA 2016 (filed early 2017)n October 1, 2017 - June 30, 2019n
July 1, 2019 - June 30, 2020 2019-2020 FAFSA 2017 (filed early 2018) October 1, 2018 - June 30, 2020
July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021 2020-2021 FAFSA 2018 (filed early 2019) October 1, 2019 - June 30, 2021

“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 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.

While federal aid can 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 have not filled out the 2017-2018 FAFSA, you can still do so before June 30, 2018.

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 when you fill out the FAFSA. 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 you haven’t already, you should fill out the 2017-2018 FAFSA before June 30, 2018.

Then, fill out the separate 2018-2019 FAFSA, (which has been open since October 1).

Once you’re caught up on those, you’ll be back on track and ready to fill out the 2019-2020 application as soon as it opens in October.

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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