File the FAFSA Now: Urgent Reasons for Families to File Early in 2020 for College Aid

If you have a college-bound student at home, don't procrastinate on securing financial aid for the 2021-22 school year.

Filling out a FAFSA 2021 form.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Everything is different in 2020, including the FAFSA, and college-bound students and their parents who delay in filling out the form this fall could lose out on thousands in financial aid.

What Is a FAFSA?

Students (and their parents) submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for financial aid from federal and state governments, colleges and universities. Financial aid awarded includes grants, scholarships, student employment and student loans. The application period for the 2021-22 academic year opened on October 1, 2020 and will end June 30, 2022. Within three days to three weeks of filing the FAFSA, the student will receive a report with information about financial aid eligibility. Colleges typically will then send financial aid award letters with the offer of admission, or for returning students, in May or June.

The Advantages of Submitting the FAFSA Early

About 20 million students file the FAFSA each year and much of the aid awarded is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis. Some colleges also have early financial aid deadlines for the college’s own financial aid awards. Colleges get a fixed allocation of certain kinds of federal student aid, which means latecomers could lose out. Students who file the FAFSA during the first three months tend to get double the grants, on average, of students who file later.

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Why Submitting the FAFSA Early Really Matters This Year

Many colleges and universities are hurting financially, which means there's less money to go around for scholarships and financial aid. And for the same reason, there may be delays in awarding it, too. Also, if you took a gap year, you will have to reapply for financial aid, and you may not get as much. After returning from a gap year, students receive about $2,500 less in financial aid, on average, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for

Why You May Want to Appeal Your FAFSA

Here’s another reason to file early: you may want to appeal, and that takes time. When you fill out the FAFSA, you use financial records from two years ago -- 2019 if you’re filing for 2021-22 -- but if you’ve had significant changes in your financial situation since then, you can and should appeal. Grounds for appeal include medical issues, job losses, job insecurity or wage cuts that had a financial impact on the family, Kantrowitz says. Attach copies of documentation to support your claims, such as medical bills, layoff notices and bank account statements, in a letter to the office of financial aid, along with a detailed explanation of your changed circumstances.

What Can Happen If You Don’t Submit the FAFSA Early

‘Need-sensitive’ colleges consider a student’s financial situation when reviewing their application, while ‘need-blind’ institutions generally do not. Some students will delay applying for financial aid when applying for admission to a ‘need-sensitive’ college because they worry that applying for financial aid will affect their admissions chances. However, some colleges will deny institutional grants to these students in the following years, unless the student can show that their financial circumstances have changed.

Emma Patch
Staff Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Emma Patch joined Kiplinger in 2020. She previously interned for Kiplinger's Retirement Report and before that, for a boutique investment firm in New York City. She served as editor-at-large and features editor for Middlebury College's student newspaper, The Campus. She specializes in travel, student debt and a number of other personal finance topics. Born in London, Emma grew up in Connecticut and now lives in Washington, D.C.