FAFSA is Right Around the Corner: Don’t Let Free Money Pass You By

At every high school, the fall season is often known is college application crunch time. During the months of October to November, both the California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC) systems are open for application submissions. In addition, the Common Application (where students can apply to Private Schools) also begins accepting application for early action deadlines as early as September. This Fall, however, in addition to college applications, students and parents must also submit the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Given that the FAFSA provides students an opportunity to demonstrate eligibility for free aid, it is important that students submit early on in order to have the greatest opportunity to secure funds.

So what’s changing?

  • For the 2017-18 academic year, you’ll be able to submit your FAFSA earlier; you can begin filing your FAFSA as early as October 1st.
  • Students will be required to report income and tax information from an earlier tax year. Seniors applying for financial aid for the 2017-18 academic year will need to report their parents’ 2015 income and tax information to submit.

With this FAFSA update, students will be able to file their FAFSA earlier without having to use estimates. In the spring, when parents file their 2016 taxes, students will be able to update it. In prior years, students have struggled with filling out the tax portion of their FAFSA as the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, that helps automatically import tax information into the FAFSA, only works at least three weeks after parents have filed taxes. Since the new FAFSA requires 2015 taxes, students will be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval, which will help them avoid some of the technical mistakes that can severely affect financial aid packages.

In addition to the above changes, as of last year, in order to submit the FAFSA electronically, students and parents are required to apply for a FSA ID. The FSA ID took the place of the “pin,” a four-digit combination used to authenticate identity. While the FSA ID requires a few more steps, it increases security for both students and parents. I encourage parents and students to create FSA IDs as soon as possible as these will be required to.

While this is the first year the FAFSA is available earlier, the hope is that with students filing their FAFSA in the fall, colleges and universities will release financial aid packages more quickly providing students and parents more time to consider the options. This is an exciting time in the college access world as college selection is often linked to financial aid packages and having more time to explore options is crucial to making the right school choice. However, it is important to remember that completing the FAFSA early is in addition to  submitting college applications and scholarships. To help students keep up with deadlines, I encourage parents to help with creating a calendar of important dates for the fall. The college application process can be overwhelming for students; it will be important that families work on the different parts to the college application process together.

For more information, please visit:  Federal Student Aid

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