FAFSA Online Secret: Apply January 1
We always recommend that students apply for as many scholarships and federal grants as possible, because scholarships and grants are essentially free money, as it does not have to be repaid. However, there is a gotcha to this strategy - if you apply for a scholarship and get it before you file the FAFSA, guess what? That's right - it counts against your federal financial aid. Your best strategy is to do your scholarship research year-round, but apply for scholarships after you apply for your FAFSA if possible.
Speaking of which, when should you apply for your FAFSA? As soon as possible! Because the FAFSA application controls access to student loans and grants, and the earlier your FAFSA gets in, gets processed, and gets done, the more eligible you are for grants and scholarships which have a limited pool of money that's first come, first served.
File your FAFSA on January 1 and file applications for scholarships beginning January 2. However, if you have to choose between scholarships and the FAFSA, make scholarships a priority. Why? Scholarships equal money you don't have to repay for college.