The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form is the first step in obtaining financial aid for postsecondary education. For years, students and parents have rushed to file their taxes so they’d have the information needed to complete it. Then they’d wait anxiously to see what their chosen colleges had to offer. Or, they’d enter estimates and have to go back and correct them once they filed their taxes.
This year, there’s no need to rush, because the federal government has changed two key details. First, instead of waiting until January 1, you can file your FAFSA form starting this October. That means you’ll be able to receive financial aid offers from schools much earlier. Second, you’ll be able to use older tax information, instead of waiting to file the current year’s return. For example, students who will be taking classes during the 2017-2018 school year are able to use tax information from 2015, and start filing the FAFSA as early as October 1 of this year.
While FAFSA is designed for federal student aid, most colleges and universities use it when deciding how much of their own aid they’ll provide. So even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for federal help, it’s worth your time to file this free form. Just go to fafsa.ed.gov and follow the step-by-step instructions.
Another change this year is that a larger share of a family’s assets will be considered when determining how much the family can afford to pay, meaning that students could receive less financial aid than they would have in the past.
The best advice? Don’t delay! File your FAFSA as early as possible. And if your college offers less financial aid than you’d like, don’t hesitate to contact the school’s financial aid office. Tell them that you’d really like to attend their school, but you’re struggling to make it affordable. Many colleges have additional dollars they can offer students who ask.