Changes are Coming to FAFSA Deadlines

There Will be Two FAFSA Periods in 2016

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There has been a period of disconnect between the college application and college financial aid processes for year. Most students applied between September and December, and would then have to wait until January to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). They were always told to file as early in January as possible, even if it meant estimating information for the previous year’s tax returns.

When the returns were completed, they could go back and update the FAFSA. This caused a great deal of confusion, extra work, and delays in the decision-making process.

President Obama and the Department of Education are implementing plans to change the FAFSA deadlines to bring them more in line with the rest of the college application process. The FAFSA application availability date will now be October 1, beginning in 2016. To make this transition, there will actually be two FAFSA periods next year, one beginning January 1 using the traditional format and one October 1 with the new. The changes also introduce some flexibility in terms of which year’s tax returns will be used to report financial information. Here is how the changes will affect current high school and college students:

  • Current high school seniors: Students who will be graduating from high school in 2016 and attending college in the fall of next year will still fall under the old guidelines. They should be submitting their college applications between September and December of their senior year, gathering financial information in December, and completing the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1, 2016. Their applications will be based on 2015 tax information so they may have to estimate tax information initially, and then go back and update the form once their tax returns are complete.
  • Current high school juniors: Students who will be graduating from high school in 2017 will be the first to have access to the FAFSA in October. In October 2016 they will be able to align their college application deadlines with the financial aid process. They will also be utilizing financial information from the 2015 tax year, but those forms should already be completed by October, even for those families which rely on an extension of the reporting deadlines. This will allow students and parents to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool during the FAFSA process, which should make completion much easier.
  • Current college and transfer students: These students could be completing the FAFSA twice next year due to these changes. They will need to access the form that will available on January 1, 2016 for the 2016–17 academic year, as well as the form that will be available on October 1, 2016 for the 2017-18 academic year. However, the form will be available until June 30, 2017 to make things a little bit easier.

There will definitely be some periods of adjustment for students, parents, and college financial aid administrators, but these changes are actually designed to eventually make things easier on everyone involved. The goal is to reduce the level of disconnect between application and financial aid determination, while motivating more students to complete the FAFSA. By making it easier to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, the president and Department of Education are also hoping to reduce the time required to complete the process and reduce the possibility of error. The ultimate end goal is to make college more affordable by providing earlier access to financial aid information that could affect the choice of which college to attend.