The one acronym a high school senior hears more than any other is FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Those five letters were the beginning of every conversation I had with my teachers regarding applying for college and financial aid, and they came up even more frequently after I chose the school I wished to attend.
Even after all of the guidance from my teachers and counselors, the FAFSA was still quite the hurdle to tackle. The forms are tedious and time consuming, and students often need a parent or guardian to help fill out the financial information. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Education has made two major changes to the FAFSA that would’ve been a great benefit to me and countless other students.
This is an in-depth look into these FAFSA changes as well as tips on how to help your students adjust to these changes.
Changes to the FAFSA submission date
The FAFSA website
The first major change to the FAFSA is the new, earlier submission date which has already taken effect for the 2017-2018 academic year. Now, instead of accepting applications on Jan. 1 of the year a student intends to attend college, the date has been pushed back to Oct. 1 of the year prior.
Looking forward, instead of submitting next year’s FAFSA application on Jan. 1, 2018, the new earliest submission date is Oct. 1, 2017. This gives your students an extra three months to submit their application for federal financial aid. When you are a high school senior, each day counts as graduation looms closer.
The Department of Education is careful to note that this will also have a slight effect on states with “first come, first served” policies:
However, several states that offer first come, first served financial aid will change their deadlines from “as soon as possible after January 1″ to “as soon as possible after October 1.” So, as always, it’s important that you check your state and school deadlines so that you don’t miss out on any aid. State deadlines are on fafsa.gov; school deadlines are on schools’ websites.
If your students live in a “first come, first served” state, this means that their window of time to submit requests for financial aid has widened, but it also moves up the timeline to ensure that they will qualify for aid before funding dries up for the academic year.
For state deadlines, check out this list on the FAFSA website.
Students don’t want to be stuck waiting to hear back from the federal government on the status of their application—here are three tips to help your students take advantage of the earlier submission date in order to maximize their aid:
1. Urge students to apply for a FAFSA PIN as soon as possible
This identification PIN is used to sign the FAFSA and to access the form at any point in the future. Students and their parents will each need their own PINs and it can take some time after applying for a PIN to actually receive it. Applying for a PIN in advance of the application process will help your students avoid unnecessary wait times.
2. Prepare all financial and personal information before beginning the process
The FAFSA is a financial form meant to assess the needs of students regarding financial aid, and therefore it is submitted yearly. It’s important that your students get in the habit of collecting the necessary information they will need as the year progresses so they have it ready when the FAFSA deadline approaches.
Necessary information and documents include:
- Social security numbers
- Bank statements
- Federal W-2 forms (either the student’s or parent’s depending on dependency status)
- Citizenship records
3. Utilize the FAFSA on the Web worksheet
This resource is for students and parents to collect, organize, and store all necessary information required for the FAFSA before starting the application. Think of it as an information bank and guide for working through the application.
Following these tips will ensure that your students have a smooth process when applying for federal student aid and planning out their college finances well before they make their choice of school.
Different tax information information required
One of the more confusing aspects of the FAFSA is the need to estimate yearly tax information for the application. The FAFSA application date falls before the deadline for filing tax returns and estimating income tax information is not an easy task. In the past, this meant that many families later had to amend their FAFSA forms once the verified tax information for the current year was available.
Now, instead of submitting estimated tax information from 2017 in order to assess income for the 2018-2019 academic year, applicants will use tax information from two years prior. In this case, students or parents will submit their 2016 tax returns to qualify for aid in the 2018-2019 school year. Current year tax information is no longer accepted on the FAFSA application.
Individual Income Tax Return form
This removes the burden to estimate income, making FAFSA filing preparation much easier.
This was a problem I ran into when applying for student aid because my father worked as a contractor and therefore dealt with complicated tax returns once the season rolled around. This would delay the application process and therefore delay my college financial planning. Had this rule been in place at the time, my own experience would’ve been much easier.
However, this presents a potential issue for your students and their parents. Income is not always a continuous flow and financial situations fluctuate from year-to-year. The Department of Education urges those with recent financial troubles that may not be reflected on their earlier tax returns to speak with the financial aid office at their prospective school(s) to assess the situation and make adjustments to aid prospects.
One way to help mitigate any problems with this is to send out reminder emails or district-wide calls to parents reminding them to discuss these changes with their respective financial aid offices when applying for schools throughout the senior year.
Important FAFSA dates
The Department of Education created this handy chart so your students will have all of the new information they need to submit their applications on time.
Important FAFSA dates via the Department of Education
While they don’t provide dates for the years after 2019, it is safe to assume the dates will mirror those of the previous years, as the Department has stated that these changes are permanent. If these dates change at any point in time, the FAFSA website will be the first place to find this information. Be sure to check it periodically to keep an eye out for changes, as well as tips and FAQs on student aid.
Other resources for high school seniors
Do you think these FAFSA changes will make a difference in application ease and on-time submissions? What other FAFSA completion tips would you recommend for your students? Let me know in the comment section below.
There is much more to a student’s college transition process than the FAFSA. There are tests they need to take and grades they must attain to ensure their future success at a university. There are plenty of other pieces on the Capterra School Administration blog full of resources, tools, and guides on improving your school and the success of your students: