It’s In Your Best Interest to Act on FAFSA Changes, Even If Your College Isn’t Changing Deadlines

Take advantage of this year's FAFSA changes, regardless of whether or not the school you're applying to or attending is updating their financial aid deadlines.

Elizabeth Hoyt

August 02, 2016

It’s In Your Best Interest to Act on FAFSA Changes, Even If Your College Isn’t Changing Deadlines

There’s a lot of buzz about the upcoming changes to the FAFSA – and a lot of schools are taking precautions in case students are confused by the transition. But, they don’t know you get your FAFSA information from Fastweb, which means you’re in the know on everything FAFSA-related.

So here’s what you need to know now: even though some schools aren’t updating their deadlines to reflect the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (commonly known as the FAFSA) changes this year, you should still fill out your FAFSA form earlier than in previous years – simply because you can. Doing so will either benefit you or just make you ahead of the game in terms of your financial aid – it’s basically a win-win.

Even if the particular financial aid you’re applying for is not granted on first-come, first-serve basis – you’re still ahead of the game in finding out your financial situation earlier than if you had waited.

Here are the main points to understand about this year’s FAFSA changes and how they’ll affect students applying for financial aid this year:

The FAFSA is available 3 months earlier this year than in past years, with the intent to both simplify and streamline the process. This change will make it easier for students and their families to understand their financial situations earlier than in previous years.

This year (for financial aid for the 2017-2018 academic year) students and their families can start the process of applying for financial aid as early as October 1 via the FAFSA. In prior years, the form was not available until January 1 of each year.

While some schools are moving up their financial aid deadlines, not all schools are changing financial aid deadlines and timelines for the 2017-2018 year, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“Different institutions are doing different things and a lot of institutions are proceeding with caution,” says Marty Somero, director of financial aid at the University of Northern Colorado, as quoted within an article on their site. “For the situation next year, we are not going to change our priority deadlines.”

As a result of many schools keeping later financial aid deadlines this year to avoid confusion over this year’s FAFSA changes, financial aid award letters may be sent over longer lengths of time.

It is important to take note of deadlines at each school, however, it’s still best to get yours in as early as possible even if the deadline is not updated to reflect this year’s changes. Why? Depending on the type of aid, it may be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis. So, it’s in your best interest to get your application in as early as possible, regardless of any changes in deadlines.

Another main change to this year’s FAFSA concerns a family’s tax returns. This year marks the first year that families are able to use a prior tax return, thus, filing for financial aid earlier than before. In previous years, students and their families had to wait for their most recent tax return in order to verify their FAFSA information.

For example, for the 2017-2018 academic year, students and their families are able to use a 2015 tax return – which they already have access to. In previous years, they would have had to wait for their 2016 tax information to do so.

In addition to simplifying the process, this year’s change will provide students and their families extra time to choose a college based on their financial situations. Previously, many students and families had to wait to see how much financial aid they were granted to make the decision. Now, they will find out how much financial aid they qualify for much earlier in the college process so they can determine their best options earlier in the college process.

It’s important to note these changes in order to take advantage of the transition. Though many schools will not change their deadlines and policies this year, it doesn’t mean you should file as you did in previous years. Your best chance at taking advantage of the change is acting on it as early as possible.

In most financial aid scenarios, “the early bird gets the worm” should become your adopted mantra to follow!

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