For many high school seniors, financial aid is the only thing that makes college attainable.
However, to tap into that aid, students must first file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which serves as the gateway to all federal money, including loans, work-study and grants.
For the 2019-2020 school year, the FAFSA filing season opened Oct. 1 — and, generally, the sooner students file, the better.
Yet it's not too late. "For those who are expecting to review financial aid award letters but haven't filed the FAFSA, there's still time," said Ashley Boucher, a spokeswoman for Sallie Mae, which provides education loans.
"Students and their parents have until June 30 to file," she said, "but it's better to act soon."
Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds. The earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better the chance to be in line for that aid, according Boucher.
Get the better newsletter.
To help save time, families can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which can expedite the process by automatically syncing and populating tax return information into the FAFSA.
To make it even easier, the FAFSA is also available on a new phone app, called myStudentAid, for the first time this year.
"The reasons to not complete it are getting less and less," Boucher said.