Now we come to the most important and perhaps the most confusing part of completing the FAFSA: the deadline. Even the most qualified or needy student will be out of luck if he or she submits the FAFSA too late.
The good news is that students have plenty of time to get the FAFSA submitted before the deadline. For those planning to attend college in the fall semester, the government begins accepting and processing FAFSAs on Jan. 1 of that year. The hard and fast deadline for FAFSA submission for federal aid is midnight, Central Daylight Time on June 30.
In order to receive state aid, however, your FAFSA deadlines can vary depending on where you live and what kind of aid you're hoping to receive. State FAFSA deadlines range from Feb. 15 in Connecticut to 30 days after the fall semester begins in Minnesota. To understand the FAFSA deadline for your state, refer to the FAFSA deadlines Web site or check with your school's financial aid office [source: US Department of Education].
It's important for students to understand the difference between state and federal deadlines. As long as your FAFSA is submitted by the federal deadline of June 30, you may be qualified to receive federal loans, grants and other financial aid. If you miss your state's deadline, you will still qualify for federal aid, but not for state-funded aid programs.
Many colleges also have their own deadlines in place, which affect how college aid funds are distributed. Some colleges require the FAFSA to be submitted by March 1, for example. In order to receive college funding, the FAFSA must be submitted to the federal government by that date.
When reviewing financial aid deadlines, it's critical that you pay close attention to the terms of the deadline, not just the date itself. There's a big difference between a FAFSA that's submitted and one that's processed or postmarked. Check to see how your school defines its FAFSA deadlines so you can be absolutely sure your forms are submitted on time [source: US Department of Education].
No matter what your state and college require in terms of deadline, it's almost always in your best interest to submit your FAFSA as early as possible. While the form is accepted starting on Jan. 1, many students find themselves waiting until the last minute, either because they are waiting for tax forms like 1099s or they just can't find the time. The Department of Education recommends using last year's tax information instead of waiting for your new 1099 forms to arrive. You can always file for a correction later if your financial information has changed drastically over the past year.
Why submit your FAFSA early? The best aid packages are generally awarded early on, leaving whatever funds are leftover to go to those who wait to apply. Many programs will even run out of funds well before the June 30 deadline, which means you reduce your chances for aid the longer you wait. By submitting as close to Jan. 1 as possible, you're also more likely to comply with any state or college deadlines, which may be much earlier than the federal deadlines.