When do I need to submit college financial aid forms?
It depends on the form you're filling out and whether your child is a new college student or a returning student.
College deadlines for the federal government's financial aid form, the FAFSA, might be anywhere from February 1 to April 1 for both new and returning students. But it's in your best interest to submit the FAFSA as soon after January 1 as possible (it can't be submitted before January 1) because some government aid programs operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
The FAFSA relies on tax information from the previous year, so it's helpful to have your tax return already completed. However, if you don't, you can still file the FAFSA using estimated numbers and then go back later and update your FAFSA with final tax numbers once you've completed your tax return (the government offers an online tool--the IRS Data Retrieval Tool--that allows you to import your tax information directly into your FAFSA). The FAFSA captures two data points: the financial picture of both the parent(s) and the student for the previous year.
The main financial aid form that most colleges use to distribute their own aid, the CSS Profile, is due anywhere from February 1 to March 1 for new students applying to college regular decision (or November 1 to December 1 for new students applying early decision or early action) and by April 15 for returning students. The CSS Profile captures six data points: the financial picture of both the parent(s) and student for the previous year, and an estimated financial picture of parent(s) and student for the current year and for the following year.
Even if you don't think your child will qualify for need-based federal financial aid, you should consider submitting the FAFSA if: (1) you want your child to be eligible for an unsubsidized Stafford Loan (a non-need-based federal student loan available to any student); and/or (2) you want your child to be considered for college need-based aid--colleges generally require both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile before they will consider your child for college need-based aid.
Both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile can be submitted online, and you must file them for each year that you want your child to be considered for aid.