If you’re planning to attend college or already enrolled, filling out and submitting the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an arduous task for those seeking grants, loans and work-study funds for the coming academic year.
No single form is more important when it comes to applying for financial aid for college. It’s your first — and likely best — shot at obtaining some form of financial aid.
Starting next year, U.S. education officials are simplifying the FAFSA ritual. For starters, you’ll be able to file as soon as October 1, using tax data from the previous year. The FAFSA determines whether a student is eligible for federal aid — as well as scholarships from their state and school. It’s based on a family’s income and how much the school costs.
Currently, students have to wait until at least January to file. And they must base their FAFSA answers on income information that isn’t finalized until federal income tax forms are due the following April. That can require some stressful guesswork that might have to be readjusted later. In many cases, parents have to fill out that IRS data, as well as the student if he or she has any income reported to the IRS.
The intent of the FAFSA streamlining, announced by President Obama on Monday, is for the estimated 6 million students and parents who fill out the form every year to learn much earlier how much money they’re getting to help pay for college.
However, even if students file the FAFSA form in October, it’s up to the college to decide when to notify them of their award — which could still be in the spring. However, many colleges have already committed to align their aid time-lines with the earlier FAFSA deadline, according to the White House.
“Even with these improvements, an estimated 2 million students who are enrolled in college and would be eligible for a Pell Grant never applied for aid, and an unknown number failed to enroll in college because they did not know that aid is available,” said the White House statement announcing the FAFSA changes.