For the first time, students began filing their FAFSA for the upcoming school year on Oct. 1. Previously, the filing window opened when the new calendar year began on Jan. 1.
The reason for the change is “to improve access to college and help students make better college choices,” Marty Habrock, director of financial support and scholarships at the University of Nebraska at Omaha said.
This permanent change will allow students to begin filing their FAFSA, a key application for receiving financial aid, as early as Oct. 1 every year.
According to the Department of Education, the change comes with three benefits: alignment, certainty and decreased pressure. The time frame aligns more closely with the college admission process and having knowledge of financial aid eligibility can be a major factor in enrollment decisions.
“I know people who transferred to UNO because their first school was too expensive,” student Eric Olson said. “If they knew what they could afford before enrolling, they could have saved money and come to UNO freshmen year.”
Previously when filing the FAFSA, students had to estimate their financial information, such as income and taxes paid because most had not filed their taxes by Jan. 1.
“I don’t work a job with steady hours, so I hated guessing my income,” Olson said. “I usually had to go back and make corrections.”
The White House-mandated time frame change alleviates this issue and creates certainty, as students no longer need to estimate their tax information. The change allows applicants to report tax information from a prior tax year, using information they already have.
This certainty also benefits colleges and universities, who have spent as many as 3 million total hours yearly verifying FAFSA information, according to a statement released from the White House.
“These colleges and universities will be able to avoid much of the burden of verifying tax return information when students apply using data retrieved directly from the IRS,” according to the statement.
The new start date also decreases pressure for students and their families by giving them three more months to explore their options. Previously, students had 18 months to file their FAFSA; now, they have 21 months.
“There will be more time for students to explore and understand financial aid options,” Habrock said. “Students and families will have a better and earlier understanding of their aid eligibility.”
The new filing window is part of the Obama administration’s plan to simplify the FAFSA and give more students access to aid.
“Over the next several years, the simpler FAFSA filing process could encourage hundreds of thousands of additional students to apply for and claim the aid they are eligible for – and enroll in college,” according to a statement released from the White House.
The FAFSA filing window for 2017-18 began Oct. 1, 2016 and will end on June 30, 2018. Students are encouraged to complete the application as soon as possible.