The FAFSA unveiling is a big deal because you won't be eligible for financial aid without completing it. While the FAFSA gets a lot of press, what you rarely ever hear about is when parents need to complete this important financial aid document.
Frankly, the federal government doesn't care when you turn in the FAFSA form. If you don't get around to filing the 2010-11 FAFSA until the Fourth of July or next fall or a year from now, the feds will still process it.
If you procrastinate on completing the FAFSA, however, you could lose out on financial aid. Many colleges and universities impose tight deadlines on their financial aid applications. It's up to you to know what the FAFSA deadlines are for every school that your teenager is interested in attending.
And that's why I spent time visiting websites and/or calling schools this afternoon to find out what these deadlines are at the colleges where my son Ben has applied. A couple of his colleges have Feb. 1 deadlines and the deadlines for the other colleges are only a month longer.
When you contact schools, you should also ask if they require the CSS/Financial Aid Profile or their own institutional financial aid documents. Lake Forest College, which is on my son's list, requires the FAFSA as well as its own application, which was actually due on Dec. 31. I sent that one in with hours to spare.
If you hope to qualify for state financial aid, you also have to determine the filing deadline for your state. An easy place to find these state deadlines is by downloading the FAFSA worksheet. On the first page you will see the deadlines for each state. Some of the earliest include Connecticut (Feb. 15), Maryland (March 1), Oregon (March 1), California (March 2). Illinois doesn't impose a deadline, but it stops awarding aid when it exhausts its budget.
Unfortunately, discovering the financial aid deadlines is a lot easier than filling out the forms.