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What You Should Know About the Changing College Admission Process: The New Changes with FAFSA

by Joanne Apesos
October 2, 2016

This is a big change in the financial aid process.  It provides a three month jump on collecting and completing the information that all colleges require in order to be considered for financial aid.

Beginning October 1, 2016, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available. This is a big change in the financial aid process.  It provides a three month jump on collecting and completing the information that all colleges require in order to be considered for financial aid.

 What else does this mean for prospective college students and current ones? 

  1. The best part is that students and families can gather the information necessary to complete the form ahead of time.  No longer will you have to do a balancing act, trying to complete income tax reports while also trying to complete the FAFSA.
  2. This new process is called “Prior, Prior Year” which means there’s a skip in the tax information you use.  For example, if you are applying for financial aid for the 2016-2017 academic year, you’ll be using tax information from 2015. 
  3. If you use The Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), the government will retrieve the information from your 2015 tax returns and prefill the answers to some questions on the FAFSA by transferring data from your federal income tax return.  This will save you time and increase the accuracy of the information. For help watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiNkqyCIuro. There are some circumstances that may make you ineligible for using the DRT, for instance if you owe money to the IRS.
  4. Since this is new for students and colleges alike, I suspect that financial aid award letters will arrive earlier. In the past, award letters would come as late as April and high school seniors would have little time to decide on what college to attend by National Decision Day on May 1.  This buys you some decision-making time and gives families plenty to time to compare packages. If students are confused about when they might receive a financial aid package from a particular school, they should reach out to the school by contacting the Financial Aid Office.
  5. This could also be a bit more time-consuming.  For example, if you file the FAFSA early in the process and there are changes in family circumstances, like a parent losing her job, the student would need to contact each of the schools he/she is applying to and ask for a professional judgement review. 
  6. Filing earlier is better.  Complete the FAFSA early in the process since students, on the average, receive more aid if they file early.  Some states, colleges and scholarship programs use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for state and institutional aid, including some merit awards, and these deadlines typically fall earlier than federal deadlines.  
  7. Don’t forget that some colleges require applicants to complete the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.  Schools that have endowment funds usually require the CSS,  they want to know more than just the information the FAFSA provides.  For a complete list of schools that require the CSS Profile go to https://profileonlinecollegeboard.org.  The form itself can be found on the College Board’s website https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile.  This form also opens on October 1, 2016. 
  8. Both a parent and the student need a FAFSA ID.  Go to https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm to create IDs.  These IDs serve as electronic signatures to the form so both the parent and student need their own.  Hold onto those IDs since you will be completing this form each year.
  9. A list of materials needed to complete the FAFSA can be found here:https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out#documents
  10. Once you receive your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) from the federal government, you can use the Net Price Calculator (NPC) for each of the colleges you are applying to.  In this way you can attain an estimate of actual annual costs for the schools you selected.  NPC’s can be found on all colleges’ websites. 

The new process and timeline is a whole new world for both families and schools alike.  It’s best to play it safe and complete the form(s) as soon as you can.

Joanne Clary Apesos is the owner of College Pursuits, a college counseling business in Holliston.  She has advised high school students and their families in planning their college experience for many years and has presented HEF workshops for students and parents about the college selection process.  Prior to assisting high school students she worked in higher education for 20+ years as an admissions counselor, adjunct faculty and director of student activities at both public and private colleges and universities in the Northeast.  She holds a master’s degree in Higher Education from Columbia University and completed UCLA’s College Counseling Certificate Program.  She can be reached at joanneapesos@gmail.com.

 

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