The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, opens the door to all financial aid — federal, state, and institutional. So if you missed one of the deadlines, you’re probably imagining all the ways in which you’re doomed.
It’s true you may have a tougher time finding sources of funding to help pay for college or grad school. But there are ways to get college funding, even if you didn’t turn your FAFSA in on time.
What to Do if You Miss the FAFSA Deadline
Colleges and universities use the FAFSA to qualify students for federal, state, and in-house financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, and student loans.
Thus, if you miss any of the FAFSA deadlines, your options for financial aid are more limited. But there are a few things you can try.
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1. Submit Your FAFSA Anyway
When it comes to getting your FAFSA in on time, there are actually three deadlines to stay on top of: the state’s, your college’s, and the final federal deadline.
Most financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Thus, the sooner you apply, the likelier you are to score more aid.
That’s why colleges often call their deadlines “priority deadlines.” These are timelines by which colleges determine you need to submit your FAFSA to receive the most aid.
But missing your college’s FAFSA deadline doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of luck — just that you’re in the back of the line. Occasionally, there could still be some unawarded funds after the deadline.
Likewise, states set deadlines in advance of the federal deadline because they also award grants and other state-based financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis. So it’s possible you could still get some state-based aid, even if the deadline has passed.
But even if you miss the college and state deadlines, you still have the chance at federal money. But the federal deadline is a hard one. So if you miss that one, you can no longer submit a FAFSA for that academic year.
At the federal level, the FAFSA opens for submission on Oct. 1 the year before the school year you’re applying for and remains open until June 30 of that academic year. (Note that if your FAFSA information is just outdated, you didn’t miss the deadline. You can submit corrections and updates until Sept. 10 of that academic year.)
If that’s a lot to wrap your head around, don’t worry. They publish the dates at StudentAid.gov. For example, the FAFSA deadlines for these school years are as follows:
- Academic Year 2021-22. Opens Oct. 1, 2020, and closes June 30, 2022; you can submit corrections or updates until Sept. 10, 2022
- Academic Year 2022-23. Opens Oct. 1, 2021, and closes June 30, 2023; you can submit corrections or updates until Sept. 10, 2023
- Academic Year 2023-24. Opens Oct. 1, 2022, and closes June 30, 2024; you can submit corrections or updates until Sept. 10, 2024
2. Contact Your College’s Financial Aid Office
All financial aid awards come through your school’s financial aid office. So if there’s anything you can do, they will know.
If you’ve missed your college’s deadline, there’s likely little institutional aid to offer. But they can still help you navigate the next steps in applying for state or federal financial aid, including federal student loans. They may also be aware of other financial aid opportunities.
3. Contact Your State’s Education Agency
Most states have their own deadlines for submitting the FAFSA, and many are significantly earlier than the federal deadline. For example, Connecticut has a deadline of Feb. 15 and Maryland of March 1.
Some states even specify their deadlines are “ASAP,” as in apply as soon as possible after the FAFSA opens for submission on Oct. 1. States set deadlines like these when they know they’ll quickly run out of their limited funds.
However, if you do miss your state’s deadline, reach out to your state’s higher-education agency for information about what steps you can take. For example, in Connecticut, you would contact the Office of Higher Education. And in Maryland, you would call the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Just be aware there might not be much they can do. As with institutional aid, once the funds are gone, they’re gone. But they may know of other financial aid availability.
4. Apply for Scholarships & Grants
You may have missed the deadlines for state, university, or federal aid, but it’s likely there are still plenty of organizations offering scholarships and grants. It’s a common misconception that once the school year comes around, you’re out of luck for landing some. But you can apply for them year-round.
Even better, if you can score one, it’s money you don’t have to pay back, unlike federal or private student loans.
Use online scholarship search tools like Fastweb to find scholarships and grants that match your interests, experience, and background. Or look into any potential opportunities with local organizations you or your parents are connected with, such as your place of worship or a social or service club like Kiwanis.
See our article on finding grants and scholarships for more search tips.
5. Look for Other Ways to Pay for College
Student loans, grants, and scholarships aren’t the only ways to pay for college. Working a part-time job can also help get you through, and there are even in-school and post-graduation benefits to working a job while in college.
Granted, it’s tough to cover the cost of tuition with a part-time job alone. But if you’re in a pinch, you can always opt for a compromise.
For example, try taking on a part-time job and a part-time course schedule to keep costs down. Or opt for a full-time job and a part-time course schedule so you can stay in school until the FAFSA opens up again.
If you decide to work your way through school, look for an employer that offers tuition reimbursement. For example, companies like Target, Starbucks, and FedEx offer part-time and full-time employees reimbursement for the cost of some or all of their tuition.
For job ideas that work well around a college schedule, see our article on best college jobs.
5. Apply for Private Student Loans
You can’t get federal student loans without the FAFSA, but there are no deadlines on private student loan applications. You can apply for one at any time during the school year.
However, private student loans are harder to get. If you’re an undergraduate with no credit history, it’s likely you’ll need to apply with a creditworthy co-signer with a demonstrated history of making on-time payments with credit cards and loans.
That means asking a parent or relative with a high credit score and a stable income for help. But co-signing means they become equally responsible for the loan. So if you miss a payment or default on the loan, the creditor goes after the co-signer for the balance due. That could make your parents or relatives reluctant to help.
There are also differences between private and federal student loans that make private loans less desirable. They have fewer repayment options and may have a higher interest rate, depending on your or your co-signer’s credit score. And there’s no option for student loan forgiveness.
The option is there as a fallback if you’ve missed all your financial aid deadlines. But only borrow enough to cover your needs until you can submit next year’s FAFSA and understand that you might be better off with literally any other option on this list.
6. Take a Gap Year
If you haven’t been able to come up with enough financial aid, it might be more financially responsible to take a gap year.
While there are some drawbacks to starting school later than you’d planned or skipping a year, there are also numerous benefits.
- If you’re undecided about what field you want to pursue, a gap year can give you time to learn what you’re passionate about.
- You can work during your gap year, giving you the chance to save even more money to pay for college.
- If school just isn’t your thing, you can take time to rest and recharge before diving back into studies.
- You can travel and see the world or even volunteer in a program abroad like the Peace Corps, which looks great on college applications and your resume.
7. Submit Your FAFSA as Early as Possible Next Year
The early bird catches the worm, as they say. In most cases, there’s only so much funding to go around. So the sooner you apply, the greater your chances of catching some of those funds.
So try to submit your FAFSA as close to Oct. 1 as possible and make note of the deadlines for your school and state. Check your school website’s financial aid page for that deadline. And find your state’s deadline at StudentAid.gov.
Also be aware that some colleges also use the CSS Profile (the College Scholarship Service Profile by College Board), which is a supplemental financial aid form for non-federal grants and loans. And it comes with its own deadline.
FAFSA deadlines are important, but the day they start taking applications may be an even more crucial date to remember. The earlier you submit your application, the more financial aid you’re likely to receive.
So mark Oct. 1 and your state and college opening application dates on your calendar. Then prep ahead of time by gathering all your financial information.
You’ll need records of your and your parents’ (if you’re a dependent undergraduate) financial information, including bank statements, investment records, and tax returns.
Put it together in a folder and store it somewhere safe so you’ll be ready to go when applications open. That way, you’ll be first in line for all the available financial aid.