Recently, President Obama announced some notable changes to the way that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – widely known as the FAFSA – process will work for students. As you probably know, the FAFSA is the key to unlocking available college financial aid options, from grants and loans to scholarships and even tuition rates. The reason the FAFSA is so important is that it provides a snapshot of you and your family’s financial situation, which then provides institutions with a consistent and fair way to establish your eligibility for various types of financial aid as you’re preparing for college.
Thus, filling out the FAFSA is an essential part of the college enrollment process, so any changes to how the FAFSA works are a pretty big deal. Luckily, as we found out when we talked to two members of Full Sail University’s Financial Aid department – Chad Cartledge, Financial Aid Compliance Manager, and Amanda Riggleman, Online Financial Aid Student Relations Team Lead – the revisions to the FAFSA process are positive changes, allowing students and their parents more flexibility when preparing the FAFSA and earlier access to student aid.
What’s new for the FAFSA in 2016?
Chad: Starting with the 2017-2018 FAFSA [the FAFSA that students will fill out for the 2017-2018 school year], the FAFSA application will now be available in October as opposed to January, which means students and parents will be able to complete the FAFSA sooner. Also, the 2017-2018 FAFSA application will now ask for financial information from your 2015 tax return as opposed to requiring information from your upcoming 2016 tax return, as was requested in the past. This means that your 2015 financial information will appear on both the 2016-2017 FAFSA as well as the 2017-2018 FAFSA.
What will be the impact on the college application and enrollment process?
Amanda: The recent FAFSA changes shouldn’t have any negative impact on the enrollment and application process. If anything, the changes should make completing the FAFSA a smoother process, since taxes would have already been filed for the tax year that is being reported on the 2017-2018 FAFSA (2015 tax information).
So these changes are good?
Chad: There are several benefits to the most recent FAFSA changes. The first benefit centers around the fact that the FAFSA can now be completed earlier. With this change, we will now be able to estimate aid that would be available to the student sooner, as well as get a better outlook on their financial need in the months ahead.
The second benefit centers around the taxes and the fact that the majority of our students and parents would have had their 2015 taxes filed and completed at the time that the 2017-2018 FAFSA becomes available. This should minimize the need for students and parents to indicate that they are a “will file” on their FAFSA moving forward.
Why should students get a head start on preparing their FAFSA?
Amanda: One of the benefits to submitting a FAFSA sooner rather than later is that it gives the students and parents more time to obtain important documents such as verification documents that may be needed. It also gives the Financial Aid department at their prospective school more time to resolve any conflicting information that may appear on the student’s FAFSA. This extra time should translate in a more stress-free process for the student and parents moving forward.
Chad: Knowing what information is reported on the FAFSA earlier will give the Financial Aid department a head start in determining what institutional scholarships students may be eligible to receive. However, recent changes to the FAFSA should not have a major impact on the process for determining the eligibility for students to receive institutional scholarships.
Amanda: It will always be in the student’s best interest to be proactive with their financial aid. This includes applying for institutional scholarships. By applying early for institutional scholarships, students will be able to get a head start on figuring out what additional financial aid they may need in order to fully fund their upcoming educational expenses.
Ugh, yes, you have to talk to your parents about money
Chad: Students who will require parental information be included on the FAFSA should always be openly discussing their continued education with their parents. With the recent FAFSA changes that are taking place, by applying for the FAFSA in October, it gives the student and parent a better outlook on the Federal assistance that may be available to the student, and will give them a better peace of mind regarding what to expect with their financial aid as they begin their college education.