Most parents of high school seniors are now breathing a giant sigh of relief as the college admissions and financial aid process is finally completed. It’s time to look ahead to dorm rooms and college classes, without worrying about filling out another FAFSA for a long time. Parents of juniors might think they have plenty of time, too, but both would be wrong. 2018 is a different year in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) world.
In September 2015, President Obama and the Department of Education announced changes which will upend many years of established FAFSA timeframes. One problem with the past January FAFSA start date was trying to reconcile financial aid with early admission and early decision deadlines. Many students apply to colleges in the fall for acceptance by the end of the year. This presents a disadvantage to students who need to wait on financial aid awards before making a final decision. They might feel compelled to accept an early admission offer, which could cause a hardship if the financial aid award is not sufficient. Or they might be forced to wait until they receive financial aid letters, which may reduce their chances of being accepted.
The changes announced 2015 should put an end to all of that. Now the FAFSA will be available online in October. Families seeking financial aid for the 2019-20 academic year will need to be prepared to provide this information much earlier. Another significant change is in the use of applicable financial and income information. Applicants were previously completing both the FAFSA and their prior year income tax returns during the same time period. This caused delays for families which had complicated returns, or caused repetition for those who completed the FAFSA using estimates and then had to go back and update their answers.
Now the FAFSA will use something called “prior prior year” for income information. Instead of the immediately preceding year, the FAFSA will now use the year prior to that. For example, the 2019-20 FAFSA available next year will rely on details from 2017 tax returns, which should already be completed by then.
This will be a big change for everybody from students and parents to financial aid officers at admitting colleges. There might be a few bumps in the road as people adjust to the new schedule, but it should provide some significant advantages down the road.
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