Empowering students and guiding families

Prior-Prior Year, Financial Aid and the College Application Process…

So, what’s new for the current crop of college bound high school juniors besides the redesigned SAT and the Universal Application?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will now be available to students and parents as early as October 1, 2016. This is being called prior-prior year because families will use their 2015 taxes. In the past, families used just the prior year tax returns to fill our the FAFSA,  and they would do this beginning on January 1 of the year that their student would be attending college-this was often an estimate on taxes that had not yet been filed. Prior-prior year should make filing the FAFSA easier because, assuming that your taxes are done, they can be pulled right from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It’s still unknown if students and families will receive student aid packages any earlier than in the past, but I think that is one of the end goals here.

So, what does this mean? According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), colleges may not set any application deadlines before October 15, 2016 for fall 2017 entrance. Colleges can, however, move deadlines up for application admission as long as it’s not before 10/15. Will they do this? It’s hard to say, but I did hear one admissions rep say that it would be nice to balance the load of applications that need to be read so they aren’t so crunched for time in late winter/early spring.

What does that have to do with prior-prior year? October 1 is a full three months earlier than when students have been able to file the FAFSA in the past. To file the FAFSA a student must list at least one college. The student doesn’t have to be accepted by this college at filing time, but it should be a college to which the student is planning to apply. Will students be working on their college list earlier? Quite possibly.

What is the advantage to the student for filing in October? As always, financial aid is first come, first served. There are some types of aid, such as work study, that are available in limited amounts and a student who may qualify for work study could possibly not receive this type of aid if the FAFSA is filed even a few months later. It will be easier to file because the 2015 taxes should be done as mentioned above.  And finally, the hope is that students will get their aid reports back sooner from colleges and have more time to compare packages and make a smart financial decision. This will be specific to each college and remains to be seen at this point for many. As with any big change, it may take some time to work out the bugs.

So, what is the bottom line here? After traveling to many schools and talking with admission and financial aid professionals this spring, it’s my thought that students might be pushing the whole timeline for college applications up and applying sooner in the fall. This may be tied to the new FAFSA date or it may be because colleges have moved some deadlines. It may even be because the Common Application is now open to current juniors. In the past it was customary for the Common Application to shut down for a few months and officially open on August 1 for the application season. This year, yet another change for the class of 2017, the Common Application has been available to juniors to create accounts for months now.

What your take-away should be-if you are a current high school junior and you think you will be applying to colleges as early as October or November then PLEASE ask your school counselor and teachers and other recommenders early, giving them plenty of time to write a thoughtful letter of rec for you.  Colleges are still figuring out how they will respond to all this change so don’t let fall come and be surprised by all sorts of deadlines that you didn’t expect. Hang on-it’s going to be a wild ride!

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