FAFSA Changes to Accelerate Admissions and Aid Cycles

Recent changes by the U.S. Department of Education to the FAFSA (financial aid form) deadlines will most certainly accelerate college admissions deadlines, acceptances and aid offers.

FAFSA is now open October 1st in the year preceding the freshman year. So, October 1, 2016 for the 2017/2018 academic year.

What should you do? If you have a rising high school senior, you need to contact a college financial consultant in the next few weeks. A consultant can help you meet deadlines and more importantly, help you qualify for thousands of dollars more in need-based aid.

FAFSA Changes to Accelerate Admissions and Aid CyclesMost college applicants complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). They do so in order to qualify for federal loans and many types of need-based college and community grants, loans and other financial aid. FAFSA is the “big dog.” Students applying to private colleges will also likely complete the CSS Profile, a more extensive financial aid form. (Actually, their parents usually get to do the honors of completing it because they know the family’s finances better.)

In prior years, families had typically until March or April of the senior high school year to complete FAFSA to meet college deadlines. Now, there will be a rush to complete the FAFSA months earlier in October. Why? “The early bird gets the worm.”

This year, FAFSA will use “prior-prior year” tax return data. FAFSA will require 2015 tax return data, not 2016. This will permit virtually all families to use the “real” tax return data, not an estimate as was common in previous years. In prior years, many families filed FAFSA in March using estimates, before filing their real tax returns in April or later. The change will save bureaucrats lots of time having to deal with revisions of FAFSA to correct for actual tax return data. So, Washington will be happy.

But, I and many other professionals who work with financial aid, think that the earlier season opening in October will mean that the whole college cycle may be moved earlier. Financial aid offers could come with acceptances before Christmas, rather than in winter or spring of the next year.

Why? Colleges compete with each other to get the “best” students and to boost their financials by filling all of their available slots. They thrive on prestigious statistics of how many students applied, how few were admitted, and of those who were admitted, the high percentage of those who said, “yes.” Making a competitive offer to students and making it early in the game helps their acceptance rate.

What should you do? 1) Plan on filing FAFSA in October. 2) Since 2015 tax data is used and that is pretty fixed, what you need to concentrate on is the asset questions on FAFSA and a realistic financial plan based on likely costs and aid that will guide the right decisions and optimize financial aid.

Recent article: http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/fafsa-changes-may-prompt-colleges-to-shift-admissions-cycles-earlier/113168

Call me on 281-838-5875

Raymond Van Buskirk, MBA

Bright Futures Consulting