While it might feel like it is getting more difficult to apply to college than ever before, there are actually those who are trying to make the process easier. One area that has always been somewhat disjointed is the system of applying for financial aid. The way it stands now is that students usually start applying for colleges in the fall of their senior year, but don’t find out anything about financial aid until April or May because the FAFSA isn’t available until January 1. They might have to make decisions on which college to attend based on incomplete financial information.
That is all about to change with a recent announcement from President Obama and the Department of Education that the FAFSA will now be available October 1. As part of the transition, there will actually be two FAFSA application periods in 2016. There will still be a FAFSA available on January 1, 2016 which high school seniors will use to apply for financial aid for the 2016-17 academic year, and then there will be another FAFSA available on October 1, 2016 which will be used to apply for financial aid for the 2017-18 academic year. Both will be based on information from the 2015 tax year. Anticipated benefits of these changes include:
• Easier to retrieve tax information: It has always been difficult for families to complete their income tax returns and have that information available to use on the FAFSA, especially for those families which have complicated returns or need to file extensions. Moving the FAFSA application period to October 1 means that the tax return season will be long gone, and will make it much easier to use the IRS Date Retrieval Tool to submit financial information.
• Better quality of information available: College applicants will now have their application decision and financial aid information available at the same time. In conjunction with the president’s College Scorecard, they should be better informed on how much it is going to cost to attend each of the schools on their list.
• More access to financial aid: Because of the perceived difficulty of completing the FAFSA, many students don’t even attempt it and miss any chance of receiving financial aid. According to a White House fact sheet, “an estimated two million students who are enrolled in college and would be eligible for a Pell Grant never applied for aid and an unknown number failed to enroll in college because they did not know that aid is available.”
It is anticipated that many scholarship organizations will also change their deadlines to correlate with these new timeframes. The goal is that students and parents will be able to have a more accurate cost picture on which to base their final choice of college. It may make things a little crazier at the beginning of the high school senior year, but will definitely take away a lot of the uncertainty that now exists at the end of the year.