FAFSA Deadlines Rundown for 2021

FAFSA Deadlines Rundown for 2021
portrait of Tyler Epps
By Tyler Epps

Published on January 27, 2021

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Each year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on October 1. Students who are seeking federal financial aid have until June 30 to submit the form. Those who fail to file before that date will be ineligible to receive federal, state, and institutional aid.

In addition to the federal deadline, students must be aware of state and institutional deadlines. Each state and college offers its own financial aid programs, which usually have deadlines that are much earlier than June 30.

With multiple deadlines to keep track of, it can be challenging to navigate the financial aid system. In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know in order to submit the FAFSA on time and increase your chances of receiving aid.

When Is the Federal FAFSA Deadline?

The 2021-22 FAFSA form opened October 1, 2020, and will be available until June 30, 2022. This means that students who need financial aid for the 2021-22 school year can begin filling out the FAFSA now and will have all the way until summer 2022 to submit it (though the earlier you submit your FAFSA, the better).

Students must submit the FAFSA to qualify for federal student loans, the Pell Grant, and other college and state-issued grants and scholarships. The same applies to college students who plan to apply for a federal work-study program.

Institutional and State FAFSA Deadlines

Institutional deadlines vary from school to school but typically come well before federal deadlines. Some colleges, on the other hand, offer financial aid on a rolling basis, meaning the earlier you apply, the better your chance of receiving a sizable award package.

If you're considering multiple colleges, check each school's FAFSA deadline (if it has one) and apply by the earliest deadline. Most colleges list this information on their financial aid site.

Like colleges, each state sets its own FAFSA deadlines. These dates are usually early in the spring semester, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should wait until then. Many states have limited funds and only offer grants, scholarships, and other types of aid until they run out.

This is especially the case for states with deadlines that are "as soon as possible after October 1." In other words, you should submit your FAFSA as early as possible to maximize your chances of receiving state- and college-issued aid.

4 Upcoming Changes to the FAFSA

The stimulus package that was passed in December 2020 included several major student-aid provisions, which will take effect during the 2023-24 FAFSA cycle. The legislation is designed to make higher education more accessible and affordable for marginalized students and students of color. Most changes will be reflected on the next FAFSA, which opens October 1, 2022.

Here are some of the key changes to look out for.

FAFSA Will Be Shorter and More User-Friendly

Over the last decade, advocates of FAFSA simplification have made strong efforts to reduce the number of questions required to complete the application. The FAFSA currently contains 108 questions, which many have argued deter students and families from completing the application and receiving the aid for which they qualify.

After years of legislative inaction, the FAFSA will finally be reduced to 36 questions. In addition, families will no longer have to obtain their income information using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, as this info will be directly imported from their tax returns — a move that's expected to significantly help low-income students apply for aid and pursue a college education.

"Expected Family Contribution" Will Be Renamed "Student Aid Index"

If this term confuses you, you're not alone. Current FAFSA filers see a section titled "Expected Family Contribution" (EFC) on their Student Aid Report. The EFC helps schools determine how much financial aid a student is eligible to receive. However, due to the wildly misleading name, many families assume the EFC is what they're expected to pay for college.

By renaming EFC to Student Aid Index (SAI), advocates feel the change makes clear that the number a family sees after filing is not the amount they're required to pay for college, but rather an indicator of their financial need. The appropriations bill also makes it possible for a student's SAI to be negative, which can help institutions better identify students who require the most assistance.

Pell Grant Eligibility Will Expand, and Max Award Will Increase

Perhaps the most significant changes under the new bill are those made to the federal Pell Grant. Unlike loans, this type of grant doesn't need to be paid back and is normally reserved for undergraduate students with the most need.

Instead of relying on the EFC to determine Pell Grant eligibility, a student's family size and adjusted gross income — compared to federal poverty guidelines — will serve as the determining factors for how much a student can receive. For the 2021-22 school year, students can receive a maximum Pell Grant of $6,495, which is up from $6,345 in 2020-21.

The appropriations bill also expands eligibility for the Pell Grant to a projected 1.7 million more students. Starting with the 2023-24 FAFSA cycle, both incarcerated students and those convicted of drug-related offenses will be eligible to receive federal Pell Grants. The same applies to students who couldn't finish their studies due to pandemic-related school closures.

Schools May Consider Unemployment During National Emergency

COVID-19 has caused millions of people to lose their jobs. As a result, many families are experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment. Under the new bill, colleges can now take this info into account when calculating students' financial aid eligibility.

The new legislation allows colleges to count applicants who are receiving unemployment benefits during a national emergency as having zero income. As long as a student can prove they're receiving unemployment benefits, financial aid administrators can use their own discretion to award Pell Grants and other aid.

Additional FAFSA Resources

Feature Image: Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Shutterstock

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