Demystifying priority deadlines: Your roadmap to college financial aid

Demystifying priority deadlines: Your roadmap to college financial aid

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When you’re preparing for college, you’ll encounter priority deadlines both for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and for scholarships. It’s important to understand how to navigate these priority deadlines so you can confidently submit your applications on time.

What are priority deadlines?

Priority deadlines are set by individual colleges, universities and states. While the FAFSA has a federal deadline of June 30 for the academic year, priority deadlines tend to be much earlier. Institutions use these dates to allocate their limited financial aid resources to students.

Priority deadlines are not universal, so it’s crucial that you check the specific deadlines for the schools you are interested in. A school may also have a different priority deadline for the FAFSA and their scholarship application. At the University of Northern Iowa, both the FAFSA priority deadline and the UNI Scholarship Application deadline are Feb. 15, making it easy for students and their families to remember.

Why do priority deadlines matter?

You may submit your application after a priority deadline has passed, however, some need-based aid is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The selection of scholarship recipients also often occurs shortly after the deadline.  

If you want to maximize your financial aid and scholarship opportunities, you should abide by priority deadlines. Missing these deadlines could significantly reduce the chance of receiving certain types of aid, regardless of your eligibility.

How to navigate priority deadlines

Here are some tips for staying on top of deadlines and submitting your materials on time:

  • Find out priority deadlines ASAP. Look on the financial aid and scholarship website of the schools you are considering. If you aren’t able to find the priority deadline on a school’s site, call them to find out. You do not want to run the risk of submitting late. UNI’s priority deadline is Feb. 15. 
  • Create a schedule. Once you know the dates, start working on your applications in the order they are due. Set yourself reminders or make a calendar dedicated to priority deadlines for FAFSA and scholarships.
  • Get documents in order. Make sure you have everything you will need to file before you begin your FAFSA form. This includes:
    •  A parent and student FSA ID
    • Social Security number
    • Student and parent federal tax return
    • W-2s and other records of money earned
    • Current bank statements
    • Investment records 
  • Read requirements carefully. When applying for scholarships, make sure you are adhering to all the requirements and giving yourself plenty of time to complete the more time-consuming aspects like essays.

What should I do next?

Now that you know why priority deadlines are so important, make sure you submit the FAFSA and any institutional scholarship application as soon as possible. Why submit both? This will maximize your financial aid opportunities. The FAFSA is your gateway to receiving federal grants, scholarships, work study and loans. UNI’s school code for the FAFSA is 001890. 

By filling out the University of Northern Iowa’s Scholarship Application, you will be able to apply to hundreds of additional scholarships from various departments as well as the UNI Foundation. This application opens July 1 and has a priority deadline of Feb. 15. Keep in mind you will also have the chance to receive admissions-based (or automatic) scholarships. These scholarships are awarded based on the information you provide when you apply to UNI, such as your GPA and ACT/SAT scores. You don’t need to fill out any additional applications to receive them. 

What can I expect after submission? 

For the 2024-2025 FAFSA, schools will begin receiving FAFSA forms at the end of January 2024. From that point forward, the FAFSA would typically be received by the college within three to five business days.  

The results from the FAFSA are compiled into a financial aid offer, which is summary of all the financial aid (including scholarships) you've been offered, along with your estimated total cost of attendance. If you are an incoming student at UNI, you can expect to receive your financial aid offer some time in March at the earliest. You will receive a financial aid offer letter in the mail and an email notification with instructions for viewing your electronic financial aid offer. You can learn more about your financial aid offer and terminology on this webpage. You can continue to view your financial aid offer via MyUniverse. Just go to your Student Center, click “View Financial Aid,” and select the aid year.

If you receive scholarships through the UNI Scholarship Application, you will also be notified by the departments and colleges starting in March. Make sure you also report hometown scholarships to the Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships.