A Year in Financial Aid

2015 Was a Year of Change in Applying to College


The end of the year is a good time to look back and reflect on what happened throughout the year. In the college financial aid arena, 2015 was a year of big changes, with more on the horizon for 2016. Here is a look at the year in financial aid, with some insights on how any changes will affect the college application process moving forward:

  • The Year Begins: As always, the year started with a frenzied rush to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The scheduling for this application has caused a bit of consternation for students and college financial aid administrators alike as they have tried to reconcile its timing with the application deadlines. This was finally resolved when it was announced that the January 2016 FAFSA will be the last time that application will be available in January. After that, the FAFSA will be available in October, with the first coming online October 1, 2016 for the 2017-18 academic year.

  • The Push to Decide: By springtime, it was time for high school seniors to make their final decisions about what college they wanted to attend in the fall. They reviewed the financial aid award letters which were received from their selected colleges, and tried to make decisions based on information as well as intuition.

  • May Brings More Than Mayflowers: A newly-minted crop of college graduates entered the “real world” in May. Many had to deal with the amount of student loan debt they had accumulated, and make decisions about how they were going to repay their student loans. The Department of Education also announced that it was eliminating the FSA PIN in favor of a new and improved FSA ID.

  • Summertime, Summertime: The rising high school seniors started to think in earnest about which college they want to attend next year. They might have planned trips with their parents to visit the campuses to meet with students, instructors, admissions, and financial aid representatives. In August they were met by a Common Application which included a number of changes, the most notable of which involved the essay prompts. They also found out that there were going to be changes to the SAT and ACT admission tests.

  • Fall Surprises: Those high school seniors who did not pay attention to the college application deadlines might have been surprised to find out how early some colleges start accepting applications. College freshmen were surprised to find out how difficult it can be to live on a budget, while recent college grads that had not done any preparation were caught off-guard when their student loan payment notices started to arrive. In September President Obama unveiled a new website to aid in the college search, the big FAFSA changes were announced, and many students were dealing with the CSS/PROFILE which is used by some colleges for financial aid decisions.

  • End of Year: The end of the year was not a time to relax when applying to colleges. Students needed to finalize applications, find scholarships, and begin preparations for the January 2016 FAFSA. In addition, a coalition of about 80 colleges announced that they were revamping the process and would be offering their own application, beginning in 2016.

There hasn’t been this much attention paid to how students get into college in years. The intent is to make it easier and more affordable for everyone. Keep reading this website on “Paying for College” to see how these changes play out over the coming year.