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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2024-2025 academic year will open this year in December, and, as a general rule, should be submitted as soon as possible. To submit the FAFSA, go to

According to Mark Kantrowitz of, “Students who file the FAFSA during the first three months tend to get twice as many [sic] grants, on average, as compared with students who file the FAFSA later.”

The federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA for 2024-2025 is June 30, 2025, but this is a little misleading. Most states and colleges have MUCH EARLIER deadlines for their financial aid applications. In order to get a crack at those state funds and college endowments for the upcoming college year, it is wise to submit the FAFSA (and the CSS Profile if necessary) as soon as possible after they open for submission.

Here is the list of state deadlines. To find specific college financial aid deadlines, just search the name of the school + “financial aid deadline.”

Meanwhile, the CSS Profile has opened for submission as of October 1st. The CSS Profile is an additional financial form required by more than 200 colleges to determine institutional aid. To learn more about the CSS Profile, check out our live webinar, Decoding the CSS Profileon October 19th.

If you have questions about completing financial aid applications, maximizing need-based aid, or college financial planning despite NOT qualifying for need-based aid, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our coaches:

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Common FAFSA & Financial Aid Questions

1. We probably don’t qualify for aid. Why submit the FAFSA?

Many families believe they won’t qualify for aid, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They don’t get anything because they don’t apply.

Remember, the FAFSA puts you in the running for federal, state, and, at some schools, institutional aid. Additionally, there are a few sources of aid, such as unsubsidized Federal Direct Loans and Parent PLUS loans, that become available regardless of need when you submit the FAFSA.

What many parents don’t realize: Many colleges require the FAFSA (and/or the CSS Profile) to determine your student’s merit package.

The FAFSA is free and is now easier than ever to fill out. There simply is no good excuse for not applying.

2. How do we file the FAFSA?

The easiest and most convenient way is to apply online at 

You can also complete a PDF version of the FAFSA and mail it to the following address: Federal Student Aid Programs, P.O Box 7650, London, KY 40742-7650.

You may also request a paper FAFSA by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). When complete, you must mail this to the address above.

3. When should we file the FAFSA?

Send in the form as soon as possible after it opens (the FAFSA for 2024-2025 is projected to open sometime in December 2023). Some financial aid is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

If your family has serious procrastination issues (what family doesn’t?), make sure to keep an eye on the state and college deadlines for financial aid. At the very least, you do not want to miss these.

4. Does a college have to admit my student before we can apply for financial aid?

No. You can submit the FAFSA well before you even send in your application to a college. Of course, in order to access any financial aid awarded to you, you must be enrolled at the university.

When you fill out the FAFSA, you can list up to twenty colleges. These include schools to which you might apply. The FAFSA website provides the school codes here.

Important Note: Some states require you to list an in-state college to qualify for state aid. In a few states, you actually need to put the in-state college as the first school on your list to qualify for state funds.

Here’s the full state-by-state rundown of whether your listed college order matters.

5. Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year?

Yes. After your first-year submission, you will receive a “Renewal FAFSA,” which offers a faster way to submit the application.

The main reason you have to resubmit every year is for accuracy’s sake. Many families see their financial situation fluctuate year after year, which may affect their need-based aid eligibility. Additionally, changes in family size may affect the calculation as well.

6. Do both the student and the parent(s) need an FSA ID?

Yes, if the student is dependent, then the student will have an ID, and the parents will also need an individual FSA ID to complete the application form.

With the new changes to the FAFSA, anyone required to submit financial information (a “contributor”) must have their own FSA ID.

7. Is my student dependent or independent for the purposes of the FAFSA?

There are very specific criteria to designate someone as an independent student. Independent students do NOT report their parents’ income and assets on the FAFSA.

As a very general guideline, if a student is under 24, entering an undergraduate course of study, and lives with their parents, they are very likely a dependent student.

8. Parents are separated or divorced. Which parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA?

If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA sees the custodial parent differently than a court might. According to the new FAFSA, the custodial parent is now the parent who provided the most financial support instead of the parent whom the student lived with the most during the past twelve months. If each parent offers equal financial support, the custodial parent is the one with the higher adjusted gross income.

Read: Paying for College for Divorced Families: A Closer Look at Financial Aid Strategies

9. Do step-parents need to report financial information on the FAFSA?

Yes, if the custodial parent remarries by the time you are submitting the FAFSA, the step-parent married to the custodial parent needs to report their income and assets.

10. Does the step-parent have to provide their financial info if they signed a prenup with the custodial parent that absolves them of financial responsibility?

From “Prenuptial agreements are ignored by the federal need analysis process. The federal government considers the step-parent a source of support regardless of any prenuptial agreements to the contrary. If a step-parent marries the parent, he or she is considered responsible for supporting the parent and children, even if he or she is unwilling to do so.”

11. What is the FAFSA Submission Summary?

The FAFSA Submission Summary, previously known as the Student Aid Report  (SAR), is a document you receive from the federal government that summarizes the info you provided on the FAFSA and will typically contain your Student Aid Index (previously called the Expected Family Contribution).

Your “Student Aid Index” is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is used to calculate the amount of need-based aid for which your student is eligible. Cost of Attendance minus your SAI equals your financial aid eligibility.

If your SAR contains a mistake, here’s how you make changes. Unfortunately, there are some changes you cannot make to the FAFSA. Instead, you must submit a financial aid appeal (or, request for professional judgment). More on that below.

Your SAR might also have a notification that you have been selected for “verification.” For more information, read the following: The FAFSA Verification Process and Financial Award Letter.

Hopefully, you will be able to access your FAFSA Submissions Summary (Student Aid Report) within several days of filing the FAFSA online. If you submitted a paper or PDF copy or forgot to include an email address, it may take a few weeks before you receive it via snail mail.

Read: Understanding Your Student Aid Report (SAR)

12. We made a mistake on the FAFSA, or, our family’s finances have changed dramatically. How do we make changes?

You can make changes for certain properties by logging into your FSA account. Specifically, If there’s a change in dependency status, number of family members, or number of members in college, you can adjust these factors.

Unfortunately, you cannot change the financial information you reported. If your family’s finances have changed, you must reach out to each school’s financial aid office and let them know. Each school will have its own financial aid appeal process that you should follow.

13. Are parents responsible for their student’s educational loans?

It depends. Parents are NOT responsible for the student’s federal direct loans unless they co-sign them, which is not necessary.

Parents are responsible if they take out Parent PLUS Loans.

If your parents (or grandparents) want to help pay off a student loan, that is certainly their prerogative, but they are under no legal obligation to help repay.

Important Note: We are talking about federal loans here. Private loans are a different beast altogether and often require a cosigner. In general, if the student were unable to pay these back, the co-signer (often the parents) would be responsible for repayment.

14. If your child takes a break from school, do they have to start repaying their federal loans?

You do not have to start repaying your Federal Direct Loans until the six-month grace period is used up. Typically, we think of this grace period kicking in after graduation, but this grace period will kick in if a student ever goes below half-time credit hours.

The good news is that if you go back to school above half-time before six months is up, the grace period will reset.

It is possible to request an extension to the grace period, but this must be done before the grace period is used up. If your grace period has run out in the middle of your leave of absence, you will have to start making payments on your student loans.

The repayment for Parent PLUS Loans, on the other hand, usually begins 60 days after the loan is disbursed, but parents can apply for a deferment for when their kid is in school at least half-time and for six months after graduation.

15. Our child received a private scholarship. Do we need to report it to the college?

Yes. If get any kind of private scholarship, you must report the scholarship to the financial aid office.

Unfortunately, the university may adjust your financial aid package to compensate for this fact. This is referred to as scholarship displacement, and it is possibly one of the most infuriating practices within the financial aid system.

Each school varies in how they treat this issue. Some schools don’t practice it at all. Some will withdraw need-based grants in the amount of your scholarship. Other colleges will use the outside scholarships to reduce your federal loans and work-study before dipping into your need-based grants.

More and more attention has turned to this issue in recent years. The states of Maryland and New Jersey have actually banned the practice.

16. Do you have to pay taxes on wages earned through work-study?

Yes, the money earned from federal work-study is generally subject to federal and state income tax but exempt from FICA taxes (as long as the student is enrolled full-time and works part-time, which is less than 20 hours a week).

The good news is that earnings from work-study do not count against you on the FAFSA.

To learn more about saving and paying for college, feel free to join one of our free workshops covering the Little-Known Secrets of Paying for College.

If you have questions about maximizing need-based aid or how to fund college WITHOUT need-based aid, be sure to schedule a free consultation with one of our college funding experts.

Schedule a Free Consultation



Brock Jolly, Founder and CFP®









Related Reading:

14 Ways to Minimize Student Loans

College Financial Aid – Know the New Rules!

Don’t Be Fooled by Your Financial Award Letters


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