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Should You Complete the FAFSA Before or After Acceptance?

By Will Geiger

Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: February 6th, 2024
Should You Complete the FAFSA Before or After Acceptance?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or “FAFSA” as it is known, is the main application students fill out for need-based financial aid, but when should you fill it out? Should you complete the FAFSA before or after acceptance to your college? There’s a lot of questions to ask, but let’s get to some answers!

Completing the FAFSA 

As with most things in the admissions process, timing matters when applying for financial aid. It is true that colleges will not finalize your financial aid package until after you are accepted, but that shouldn’t mean you should wait to fill out the FAFSA until after you’re accepted. Students usually receive award letters at the time that they are formally notified of their college acceptances. 

Students can apply for financial aid with the FAFSA any time after October 1st. The FAFSA officially closes on June 30th, but keep in mind that individual colleges may have their own FAFSA deadlines.

Is there an advantage to completing the FAFSA early?

Let’s put it this way, there is a disadvantage to completing the FAFSA late and after the deadline. By applying as early as possible, you increase the chances for the maximum amount of financial aid possible.

Need-based financial aid includes a variety of types of funding, including grants such as: 

So even though you won’t immediately receive your financial aid package, this allows an opportunity to apply for all possible financial aid.

Students may list up to 10 colleges on the FAFSA

When you are completing the FAFSA, you’ll see that you can list 10 colleges at a time. Luckily, it is really easy to add more colleges if you are applying for admission to 11 or more schools. Any schools you list will receive access to the information you provided on the FAFSA, which will help them determine the aid they can provide you. 

Students should also list any in-state public colleges first on their FAFSA. This is because some states award additional grants and financial aid for in-state residents. Keep in mind that you don’t have to apply to a school before you can list them on your FAFSA. 

Don’t forget about the other financial aid applications

You might come across other financial aid applications that colleges require. In most cases you will need to have FAFSA filled out and on file in order to qualify. So, if you’re thinking about applying to other scholarships, school specific aid, or any sort of aid from your local government, you should have the FAFSA filled out. 

One of the other most common financial aid applications is the CSS Profile which is managed by the College Board. This application is used by almost 400 colleges and universities to provide aid to students. 

Also read: CSS Profile vs. FAFSA: What you need to know

Be aware of state and college deadlines

Another reason to complete your FAFSA ahead of time is that colleges and states may have deadlines earlier than the federal deadline of June 30. Contact the financial aid offices of the schools you’re considering to find out their deadline for the FAFSA. 

Additionally, make sure you’re aware of the deadline for your state. Because of the variation in state and college deadlines, you should fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 to ensure you don’t miss out on available aid.

Give yourself time

Filling out the FAFSA can be time consuming the first time you fill it out. So, make sure you give yourself enough time to properly complete the application, meaning you should probably start sooner rather than later. Once you have completed the FAFSA once, it should not take as long to update each year. You should become familiar with the questions you’ll be asked and any documentation you’ll need to provide. 

Related: Can I make corrections to my FAFSA after submitting?

Apply for the FAFSA as soon as possible

The bottom line for students is that it makes sense to apply for financial aid with the FAFSA as soon as possible. Students should not wait until receiving a colleges’ acceptance to complete the FAFSA. Instead, You should aim to complete and submit the application shortly after the FAFSA opens up on October 1st. This is the best way to qualify for the most financial aid possible so that you can graduate with little or no student loan debt.

See also: How to this year’s FAFSA

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • The bottom line for students is that it makes sense to apply for financial aid with the FAFSA as soon as possible rather than waiting for college acceptance letter(s)
  • Aim to complete and submit the application shortly after the FAFSA opens on October 1st
  • The sooner you apply for financial aid, the more aid you may be able to receive
  • When in doubt, it’s always better to fill out the FAFSA sooner rather than later, as it may be required for other forms of financial aid you intend to use
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about when you should complete the FAFSA

How long does it take for FAFSA to process?

The FAFSA takes a few days to process, but should not take more than three to five days. You can check the status of your application on your account. If after a few days you have not seen the status of your application change, reach out to someone to make sure there were no issues. Additionally, if you plan to submit a paper application, it will take slightly longer to hear back about the status of your application.

Can you submit the FAFSA after acceptance?

You should not wait to complete the FAFSA after you have been accepted to a college. The FAFSA opens on October 1st each year. That means if you apply to the FAFSA on October 1st of the current year, that application will be for the coming school year. The federal deadline for the FAFSA is June 30th, but each state may have their own deadlines that are sooner. If you wait to hear back from a school about your acceptance in spring, you may not be left with much time to apply to the FAFSA. We strongly advise you not to wait!

Does FAFSA affect your college acceptance?

FAFSA should not affect your college acceptance. If you are nervous that your financial situation may impact your acceptance, you should check to see if your school has need blind admissions. Need blind admissions simply means that a college does not consider the amount of aid you will need when deciding if you will be accepted.

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