If you want to qualify for financial aid to help pay for college, you’ll need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is a free application that the government and colleges use to decide how much money to give you for school. Completing this form is the easiest way to get free money for college, so make filling it out a priority!
Like the name suggests, it’s free to apply each school year for all kinds of federal financial aid, including scholarships, grants, work-study jobs and student loans (although you should stay far, far away from any student loans). And on top of federal funding, the FAFSA also shows you what state and college-specific aid you’re eligible for. (I used the FAFSA when I was a student to see how much money I could get from my school and federal funds, and that helped me understand how many scholarships I’d need to cover the rest of my tuition.)
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Keep an eye on your calendar because there’s a ticking clock when it comes to filling out your FAFSA. The deadline to submit your FAFSA in any academic year is always June 30 (which is also the very last day of that academic year).
But believe me—you don’t want to wait until the last minute to turn in your application. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to miss out on scholarships and grants that can help you pay for college. In other words, don’t treat your FAFSA like a term paper you wait to start until the day before it’s due.
When Is the Federal FAFSA Deadline?
The federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is usually on the last day of the academic year—which is June 30. That means you can fill out the FAFSA for this academic year (2022–23) until June 30, 2023. And looking even further ahead, the last day to file for federal financial aid for the 2023–24 academic year will be June 30, 2024.
I know what you’re thinking: But the fall and spring semesters are already over by then . . . What’s the point of applying at that point? It’s true, you might have missed out on most of the financial aid you could have gotten for the academic year. But there’s still hope!
You can still qualify for federal grants that could retroactively cover what you’ve already paid for the fall and spring semesters. And some schools might let you use some of the money you receive to pay for summer classes.
What happens if you miss the June 30 federal deadline? Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. You’re no longer eligible to submit your FAFSA form for that academic year after that date. So, my advice is simple: Don’t miss the deadline!
FAFSA Start Date
Federal FAFSA Deadline
October 1, 2021
June 30, 2023
October 1, 2022
June 30, 2024
What About State FAFSA Deadlines?
On top of the federal aid you’ll receive from the FAFSA, states often use the information you submit through your FAFSA to help them figure out how much money to give you—and what type. States have their own deadlines that are usually much sooner than June 30.
Each state has its own process in place. Some states have a hard deadline while others strongly suggest you apply as soon as possible. But since many states don’t have much financial aid money to go around, they will award financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis, and once those funds are gone, they’re gone.
If your state doesn’t get your information on time, you hurt your chances of getting financial aid for the upcoming academic year. I can’t stress this enough: Submit your FAFSA as soon as you possibly can!
Side note: Some states will ask that you fill out some additional forms, so make sure you do your homework on what’s required in your state.
If you need to find out when your state’s FAFSA deadline is, head over to the Federal Student Aid website and see what else might be required for you to qualify for aid. But many states will tell you to go straight to your school’s financial aid office for deadline information.
When Can I Start Applying for FAFSA?
There are two very important dates to keep in mind when you apply for federal financial aid through FAFSA: October 1 and June 30.
Let’s start with October 1. This is when you can start applying for financial aid for the next academic year (until June 30 of the next year).
And hey, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year! If you’re planning on taking classes during the 2023–24 academic year, you can file your FAFSA starting on October 1, 2022.
This is important: File your FAFSA as close as possible to the October 1 start date! If you file sooner, you’ll likely qualify for more scholarships, grants and other types of financial aid. If you wait too long to file, you’ll end up with whatever money is left over after everyone else gets their aid—which probably won’t be much.
Circle that date on your calendar, set a reminder on your phone to apply . . . do whatever you have to so you don’t miss out on any funds you qualify for!
Do Individual Colleges Have FAFSA Deadlines?
Believe it or not, colleges have their own deadlines too. After all, they have their own scholarships and grant money to give out, and most of them also reward students who apply as early as possible for FAFSA.
Many due dates for FAFSA set by colleges are priority deadlines. That just means you’ll be considered for the most money from that school if you apply early and on time. Many colleges have this date posted clearly on their financial aid webpages, so that’s a good place to start. If you’re having trouble finding those deadlines, give the school’s financial aid office a call.
But really, most college application deadlines go hand in hand with that October 1 FAFSA start date, so if you submit your application on that date or soon after that, you should be golden!
How FAFSA Can Help You Graduate Without Debt
If there’s one thing I want you to remember, it’s this: Do not go into debt to go to college. It’s completely possible to cash flow your education, and the scholarships and grants you could receive from federal, state or college funding through FAFSA can play a role in helping you get a debt-free degree.
Like I mentioned earlier, FAFSA is used to figure out if you qualify for financial aid that falls mainly into two camps: scholarships and grants, and student loans. Make sure you understand what you’re saying yes to—and what you need to say no to.
Say yes to scholarships and grants (like the Pell Grant and FSEOG Grant). That’s free money! Work-study programs also give you an opportunity to earn a paycheck from an on-campus job to help you with tuition.
For the 2021–22 academic year, students who qualified for a Pell Grant award received anywhere between $672 and $6,495.1 But just a few years ago, more than 2 million students who would have qualified for the Pell Grant failed to file the FAFSA. What’s even worse is 1.2 million of those students would have qualified for the maximum award amount.2
Let that sink in for a moment. More than a million students left thousands of dollars in free money on the table that could’ve been used to help pay for college . . . all because they didn’t take the time to fill out the form. Don’t make that mistake!
And remember: You need to say no to any student loans that come your way. Despite what anyone might tell you, student loans aren’t really “aid”—they’re a trap that could keep you in debt for years or even decades after you graduate. That’s because you will have to pay back the money you borrowed (plus interest) with repayment plans designed to keep you in debt for a long, long time.
Plus, student loans are more than just a financial burden. In fact, 54% of student loan borrowers say their mental health struggles are directly related to their debt.3 But it doesn’t have to be that way! You deserve to leave college with a degree and the freedom to choose your next step—not with debt holding you back.
Go to College Debt-Free
If you can’t cover the full cost of tuition with the financial aid you get from the FAFSA, there are still ways to pay for college (ones that won’t have you enslaved to payments years after you graduate).
You might need to go to a more affordable school, attend community college first, live off campus, or work while you’re in school. I know these sacrifices might not be ideal in the moment, but they’ll pay off big time. The main thing is that you get a useful degree without going into debt, and you can do that no matter where—or how—you go to school.
Get a clear path for college with the book Debt-Free Degree. It gives you a step-by-step plan for choosing the right school, paying for college without student loans, and staying debt-free while you’re in school. Because taking the time to explore all your options will save you a lot of money and stress today and tomorrow.
Remember, it’s never too early (or late) to set yourself up for financial success!