The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is currently undergoing several changes that will take effect within the next academic year.
Administered by the US Department of Education, the FAFSA helps to determine the financial need of an individual as well as eligibility of several forms of financial aid. The form is used by many states and colleges to determine eligibility for a number of things involving state and school aid, such as grants, loans, and work-study funds.
Financial and income information is collected on the form and is taken from federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other such records that show proof of money earned. Once obtained, the information is used to determine financial need, writes Jenna Hrdlicka for Iowa State Daily.
Ann Wessman, assistant director for scholarships and student employment for the office of financial aid, said that the form will open this year on October 1, causing the priority deadline to have changed to December 1. In addition, the form now will be using something called "prior-prior year taxes" rather than the current year's taxes, which Wessman said will be a positive change.
"One of the biggest obstacles for students in the past has been that their parents haven't had their taxes done so we've always encouraged them to estimate, but now it's going off of prior-prior year, so everyone should be able to have their taxes done," Wessman said.
Martino Harmon, senior vice president for Student Affairs at Iowa State, noted the importance of the date change, saying that the sooner date should help students with earlier decision-making, while at the same time cutting down any uncertainty associated with waiting for financial aid notifications. Harmon went on to say that students will need to change their thought process from the way things were done in the past in order to ensure forms are filled out earlier, writes Margie Peterson for The Morning Call.
Harmon added that the impact will be the greatest for incoming students, who will be able to make decisions concerning their college of choice much earlier. Students were previously not given financial aid information until March or April. With the universal date for students to let colleges know whether they plan to attend in the fall being May 1, families did not have much time to determine whether they could afford to pay the tuition.
He did note one large concern — whether students are unaware of the time change.
"My only concern is if no one knows about it, then people who didn't know about it can't fill it out earlier, and those people might not have [the same opportunities for aid]," said Bailey Johnston, sophomore in elementary education. "If they make it well known though, then [I think it will be a positive change]."
As a result of the earlier deadline, some colleges may decide to bump up the notification date of their aid packages to students as well. However, federal officials have requested that colleges not move up acceptance deadlines, as this would cause the FAFSA changes to become null.