The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, was made available on Oct. 1 this year, three months earlier than usual. FAFSA is an official form used by current and prospective students to request federal, state and school assistance in paying for college.
One of the benefits of this early kickoff is that those who apply early might be able to secure financial aid that is on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to USAToday. Those who delay to apply might miss out on such opportunities.
Michelle Baker, FAFSA specialist at John Brown University, has benefited from the early FAFSA kick off.
“The greatest advantage for me is that I can help students and parents get through the FAFSA process earlier so that when it comes time for awarding season, they hopefully will have this first piece completed,” Baker said.
Applicants are encouraged to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows them to answer some questions on their FAFSA applications by transferring data from their federal income tax returns.
The 2017-2018 application is based on the student’s 2015 tax information. Applicants were originally required to make estimates of their federal tax returns, because this information was not yet available. With the new system, applicants already have their tax information and this makes the application process more accurate and less time consuming.
Anna Gibson, senior marketing major, filled out her FAFSA application a few days after it was made available. She used to take several months to submit her application, because she would have to wait for her parents to file their taxes.
“Now, all the information is already completed from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool and all I have to do is confirm it. It took me like 10 minutes to fill it out this year. And it was processed by the next day.”
This new system has worked out perfectly for Gibson as she will be studying abroad in Australia next semester. Since she has already completed her application, she will no longer have to worry about it when she is out of the country.
The early FAFSA kick-off has also come with its challenges.
“I think the hardest thing about the early FAFSA this year is that I don’t get my normal slow season. Usually, after school begins, things slow down for me and I have time to recoup from the busy season and prepare for the next year,” Baker said. “This year we moved from the busy season right into the next FAFSA year so I don’t have as much of a break.”
Despite this problem, Baker is optimistic. With three extra months for this process, she believes that this year’s business will be more spread out and will provide a less hectic summer.
According to Gibson, there is still room for more development in the FAFSA application process. If possible, Gibson would enable the applications to save each applicant’s information from the previous year.
“I don’t want to have to put in my high school, gender, address, etc. every time. It should just remember it for the next year and allow you to edit or update your information in each section,” she said.