Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) season is in full swing! Whether you’re a college student, a high school senior or you’re seeking financial aid for your college-age child, it’s time to fill out those forms. The rules and deadlines can be confusing, but we’re here to help. We have answered all your questions on applying for FAFSA.

When is my application due?

There are three FAFSA deadlines you need to know: federal, college and state. The federal FAFSA submission has one set date, while each college and state sets its own separate deadlines.

The 2020-21 FAFSA form became available on Oct. 1, 2019. This form is for the 2020-21 award year, which runs from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.Online applications for this form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2021. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 11, 2021. You can look up the 2020-21 deadlines for your college and state using these links:  College deadlines 2020-21State deadlines 2020-21.

You can still submit an application for the 2019-20 FAFSA form, which became available on Oct. 1, 2018. This form is for the 2019-20 award year, which runs from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. Online applications for this form must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on June 30, 2020. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 12, 2020. You can look up the 2019-20 deadlines for your college and state using these links: College deadlines 2019-20State deadlines 2019-20.

Who is eligible for FAFSA?

To qualify for FAFSA, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
  • Have a valid Social Security number (unless you are from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia or the Republic of Palau).
  • Men must be registered with Selective Service.
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school.
  • Have a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent.

There are more eligibility requirements for FAFSA. You can view the full list of criteria here.

How do I apply for FAFSA?

You can now apply for FAFSA using the free  myStudentAid app. If you use the app with an Apple device, be sure to disable the “smart punctuation” feature before filling out the form to avoid errors.

If you’d rather not download an app, you can also apply for FAFSA online at FAFSA.ed.gov.

You can still send in your application via snail mail, but this is not recommended for several reasons: The online applications are simpler to complete and generally have fewer errors because they only ask you relevant questions and are designed to detect common errors. Your application is also likely to be processed quicker when submitted online. Finally, when applying for FAFSA online, you will be given the option to have your IRS data automatically retrieved and then populate the relevant fields, significantly lowering your chances of errors in your tax reporting.

What are some common mistakes people make on the FAFSA form?

A careless mistake on your form can delay your application and limit your eligibility for aid. To avoid errors, be sure to read every question carefully and to review your application before submitting.

Here are some of the most common errors on FAFSA forms:

  • Leaving blank fields. If a question does not apply to you, enter a “0” or write “Not applicable.”
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields. There is no need for either of these symbols; simply round to the nearest dollar.
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security number or driver’s license number. Triple-check these numbers to ensure accuracy.
  • Using the wrong name. Be sure to use your full legal name as it appears on your Social Security card.
  • Entering the wrong address. Use your permanent address only to avoid confusion.
  • Forgetting to list your college. Be sure to obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan on attending and list it along with any other schools where you’ve applied for admission.
  • Forgetting to sign and date. Don’t forget this crucial step!

Can I apply for FAFSA as an independent?

If for whatever reasons your parents are not paying any part of your college tuition, you may be able to apply for FAFSA as an independent. If you can apply as an independent, your parents’ income will not be considered when your eligibility is determined.

You may be able to apply for FAFSA as an independent if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • You will be 24 years of age or older by Dec. 31 of the award year.
  • You are an orphan (both parents deceased), ward of the court, in foster care or you were a ward of the court at age 13 or older.
  • You are a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or serving on active duty.
  • You are a graduate or professional student.
  • You are legally married.
  • You have legal dependents (excluding a spouse).
  • You are an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship.
  • You are homeless.

If you do not meet any of these requirements, consider contacting a financial aid administrator to discuss your options. The administrator may be able to provide a dependency override if you can prove you’re living or fleeing from an abusive or hostile home environment. They may also be able to deem you eligible for unsubsidized Stafford loans if you can prove your parents no longer support you financially. Finally, you may qualify for some education tax benefits, such as the Hope Scholarship tax credit and the student loan interest deduction.

The sooner you apply for FAFSA, the greater your chance at obtaining the limited financial aid offered by your college and state. Don’t delay; apply today!