Is the FAFSA “First Come, First Served”?

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The cost of attending college is alarming when you look at the sticker price. Except for students whose families are in the wealthiest bracket, few actually end up having to meet that steep, face-value price tag. Thanks to financial aid, students usually pay far less than the stated sticker price for their education.

 

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is usually your ticket to receiving much of your financial aid. This application can be a little tricky to complete, and there’s another consideration: sometimes, aid runs out.

 

When is the FAFSA Due?

 

The FAFSA opens on October 1 the year prior to the academic year in question. For example, for the 2021–22 academic year, the FAFSA opened on October 1, 2020. The federal deadline for submissions is June 30 in the second calendar year of the academic year specified—so, for the 2021–22 academic year, the deadline is June 30, 2022. Corrections must be submitted by September 10, 2022. 

 

States have individual deadlines, as do colleges. For colleges, the deadlines often coincide with the application deadlines, so you should plan to submit your FAFSA at the same time as or earlier than you submit your application. 

 

Examples

 

Harvard

Restrictive Early Action: November 1

Regular Decision: February 1

Transfer Students: March 1

Current Students: May 1

 

University of Michigan

Suggested Filing: December 15

Final Deadline: March 31 (additional documents, if requested, are due at this time, too)

 

Amherst College

Early Decision: November 16

Regular Decision: January 10

Fall Transfer: March 1

Spring Transfer: November 2

Returning Students: March 1

 

Is Aid Disbursed on a “First Come, First Served” Basis?

 

The short answer is: sort of.

 

States and individual schools have limited amounts of student aid they can distribute, and a large part of it is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Moreover, you will probably receive more generous aid the earlier you submit. That’s because each college has a set amount of money to distribute in the form of Federal Work-Study programs and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.

 

Some schools start awarding loans instead of grants once the grant money runs out, and many states stop awarding aid entirely once the funds have been depleted.

 

In fact, Saving for College found that students who submit their FAFSA within the first three months after the application becomes available receive twice as much in grants on average compared with those who file later.

 

Ultimately, it’s in your best interest to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. 

 

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States with Earlier Aid Deadlines

 

Some states have earlier general FAFSA filing deadlines than the federal filing deadline or deadlines for particular programs. Below is the information for these states for the 2021–22 academic year. (Priority filing deadlines and those that advise students to submit their forms “as soon as possible after October 1” are not listed here.)

 

State

Deadline

Arkansas

Academic Challenge: July 1, 2021

ArFuture Grant (fall term): July 1, 2021

ArFuture Grant (spring term): Jan. 10, 2022

California

Many state programs: March 2, 2021 (date postmarked)

Additional community college Cal Grants: Sept. 2, 2021 (date postmarked)

Delaware

April 15, 2021

Florida

May 15, 2021 (date processed)

Iowa

July 1, 2021

Maine

May 1, 2021

Maryland

March 1, 2021

Michigan

May 1, 2021

Minnesota

30 days after term starts

Mississippi

MTAG and MESG Grants: Sept. 15, 2021

HELP Scholarship: April 30, 2021

Missouri

April 1, 2021

Nevada

Nevada Promise Scholarship: March 1, 2021

New Jersey

2021–22 Tuition Aid Grant recipients: April 15, 2021

All other applicants:

Fall and spring terms: Sept. 15, 2021

Spring term only: Feb. 15, 2022

Oregon

OSAC Private Scholarships: March 1, 2021

Pennsylvania

All first-time applicants enrolled in a community college; business, trade, or technical school; hospital school of nursing; designated Pennsylvania Open-Admission institution; or nontransferable two-year program: Aug. 1, 2021

All other applicants: May 1, 2021

South Carolina

Tuition Grants: June 30, 2021

Tennessee

State Grant: Prior-year recipients receive award if eligible and apply by March 15, 2021

Tennessee Promise: March 15, 2021

State Lottery for fall term: Sept. 1, 2021

State Lottery for spring and summer terms: Feb. 1, 2022

Utah

Regents’ Scholarship: Feb. 1, 2021

West Virginia

PROMISE Scholarship: March 1, 2021

WV Higher Education Grant Program: April 15, 2021

 

How Long Does it Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?

 

The amount of time it takes to complete the FAFSA varies, but if you’ve gathered all of your documents and information and understand the steps, you can probably do it within an hour. The steps are:

 

  1. Create a Federal Student Aid ID
  2. Ask your parents for their income and tax information, along with additional information attesting to their assets.
  3. Have your school list handy. 
  4. Get your own tax information from the IRS Website.

 

How Much Can You Expect to Pay for College?

 

The sticker price is not the final price for the vast majority of students. In fact, with financial aid, in some cases, you may pay a similar price to that of public schools, or even less. To find out how much you can expect to pay for college, check out CollegeVine’s cost calculator, which will help you estimate the price and financial aid you’ll receive for given schools.

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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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