If you want to get more money for college, October 1 is an important date. That's when families can start filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (aka, FAFSA) for the 2020-2021 academic year. Yes, for next fall.
The FAFSA matters so much because colleges and federal and state governments review it to figure out how much financial aid you can get. It informs their decisions about need-based grants and, often, merit scholarships. You'll also need to fill it out to apply for federal student loans.
And don't make the mistake of waiting too long: It's important to get the form in as soon as you can, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for SavingforCollege.com. States and colleges set their own aid deadlines, often within months of when the form becomes available — and it's not unusual to see states and colleges dole out aid on a first-come, first-served basis.
"If you wait, you may miss out," Kantrowitz says. "Students who file the FAFSA within the first three months tend to get twice as many grants, on average, as students who file later."
The bottom line, he says: "There will be less money available for students who file in December than those who file in October."
Expect to spend about an hour gathering key forms and getting ready to file, and then another 30-60 minutes actually filling out the form, Kantrowitz says.
Here's how to prepare so you're ready to file the FAFSA quickly:
Your payoff for those two hours of effort preparing for and filing the FAFSA can be substantial. One 2017 study estimated that students who don't file the FAFSA are missing out on almost $10,000 each year in aid, including roughly $2,300 that doesn't need to be repaid.
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