Yes, you can complete your FAFSA® form before applying or being accepted to college. You can apply any time after October 1 for the next school year to ensure that you’re eligible for student aid.
Remember, colleges will not put together a financial aid package until you’re accepted and the Department of Education won’t pay out funds until you’re enrolled. So, it’s just as important to get your college applications in as it is to apply for financial aid.
Now that you know that you can, and should, complete your FAFSA® early, let’s take a look at how colleges process and consider you for aid. Each college and state does things different, so if you have any questions ahead of getting started make sure to contact the financial aid office at one of your chosen colleges.
Is There an Advantage to Submitting the FAFSA® Early?
You can apply for the FAFSA® for student aid before you apply to school but you need to list at least one school you are considering on the FAFSA® for it to be considered complete. The Department of Education recommends students list any schools they’re considering on their FAFSA® form, even if they’re unsure if they’re going to apply for enrollment.
Why? Even though many colleges won’t put together a financial aid package until a student has been accepted for enrollment, the concern is that students could miss out on “first-come, first-served” financial student aid if they wait too long to file their FAFSA®.
Students may list up to 10 colleges on their FAFSA®
Throughout the entire college decision process, students will have the ability to add and remove colleges from their FAFSA® form, even after they’ve signed the application. In most cases, any schools added to an already completed and signed FAFSA® will receive the student’s application within a week.
In the end, there’s not always a right or wrong order in which to file your FAFSA® and submit your applications for enrollment. Some students will fall in love with a school later in the process, and others may need more time to collect all their financial information. The key is to try to get things done sooner rather than later to maximize your financial aid opportunities.
Truthfully, the more colleges you put on your FAFSA® the more financial aid you might get. Why is that? Colleges decide your financial aid package based on factors relating to its student body, your need, budget, and federal allocation. Some colleges might offer you more aid than others, which means you get your choice of the best package.
Lost FSA ID Delay’s
One of the many delays for students applying for financial aid is that they are unable to locate their FSA ID. The FSA ID is what you use to start, keep track of, and sign your FAFSA®. It can be difficult to retrieve your FSA ID if you end up losing it, so it’s best to put it in a safe place once you start the application to ensure that there are no delays in signing and submitting your FAFSA® application.
Remain Aware of College and State Preferences
While students can file a FAFSA® for federal aid up until the practical end of an academic year, many schools and states have their own deadlines for their respective financial aid resources.
It’s important for students to contact their schools’ financial aid offices to ensure they get all the required information to them in time. Students can consult this resource to keep track of state deadlines.
Students also need to be aware that the order in which they list schools on their FAFSA® can impact state funding. Some states require students to list state universities first in order to receive state aid. You can look up each state’s requirements here.
If you’re not clear on what you need to do to ensure you’re applying for state federal aid in addition to FAFSA®, contact a college financial aid office or your high school counselor for some guidance. If you are applying to a college, the are usually willing to help you complete the financial aid process so that they have all the information they need to process your aid package.
The Earlier You File, The More Financial Aid You Can Receive
While filing late will not affect whether a school receives your financial aid application, it can prevent you from getting more student aid than you would have if you filed earlier. This is because federal student aid is given out on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The earlier you file, the more likely you are to get an aid package that covers school expenses and education costs, decreasing the amount of student loans you might have to take out. Colleges are considering your financial aid package as soon as they get your information from the FAFSA®, so the earlier in the year they get it, the more money they have to work. No matter what college or university you decide to go to, that will work in your favor.
Of course, certain circumstances and life events can keep you from filing your FAFSA early. That’s okay! It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get student aid from the college of your choice.
If you can’t get your application in until later in the year, don’t feel bad about it. Your college will still consider you for financial aid if you showcase a need, and it’s likely that you will be given federal student aid no matter what time of year you file.
The only way to find out if you’re going to be accepted for enrollment and receive the federal student aid you need is to apply for admission and file your FAFSA®! When and how you do it is totally up to you. Just make sure to check those college deadlines!