Changes to FAFSA could mean changes to the admissions timeline

New process coming in fall 2016

Students will soon be able to apply for federal financial aid sooner and more easily, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama announced Monday while on tour in Iowa.

The federal government is making two major changes to the way that students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA. Over the past year, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been calling to simplify the form.  

See also: What the FAFSA changes will mean for colleges

Starting in fall 2016, students will be able to:

  • File as early as October; and
  • Prepopulate parts of the form using two-year-old tax data.

Effects on colleges and students

The changes could encourage more students to apply earlier in the year, Kelly Field writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education. She also notes that it will streamline the process for students who apply for early admissions decisions because they will no longer need to update their income information later.

However, some worry that using "prior-prior year" tax information could make financial need estimates less accurate. In some cases, family incomes will rise in those two years, meaning that students might be getting a little more financial aid under the new system than they would have gotten under the old system.

A new admissions timeline could also change the way prospective students interact with their prospective schools, Cory Turner writes for NPR. Under the old system, students sometimes found themselves accepted by a college—and making enrollment decisions—before they knew every piece of their financial aid package, says Margaret Feldman, director of college advising for the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria, told NPR.

But under the new timeline, Turner writes, students are more likely to have more information about their federal aid earlier in the process (Turner, NPR, 9/14; Field, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/13).

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