FAFSA is now earlier and easier

Ellie Smith | Asst. News Editor

The burden of getting financial aid lessened for college students with the White House’s latest announcement. The administration revealed major changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in a press release on Sept. 13. These changes come from the Obama Administration’s effort to invest in higher education and America’s future.

The administration estimates that approximately two million students that are already enrolled in college would be eligible for a Pell Grant but never applied for aid because the process was too complicated. Previously, the FAFSA form went live on Jan. 1, forcing students to interrupt their holiday vacation and sort through financial documents and questions in hopes of getting aid.

Starting in the fall of 2016, this will no longer be the case. On Oct. 1, 2016 students can start applying for their financial aid for the next school year. This earlier date is beneficial for students applying to colleges because it allows them to get an idea of their financial aid eligibility while they are deciding on their schools.

Judith Lewis Logue, the director of financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students, started preparing the Office of Financial Aid for this big change as soon as she heard the news.

“This is a big and good change for students and parents,” Lewis Logue said.

The many changes make financial aid more accessible to students, enabling more students to invest in their future.

Lewis Logue explained that part of the change includes creating a uniform process at schools, which can mean big adjustments for financial aid offices across the country.

“The financial aid office is working toward what will need to be done,” Lewis Logue said. “It will be more complicated for college campuses because all [computer] systems at colleges have to be changed. But they will get it done. They certainly have enough time.”

The White House plans to bring uniformity to the financial aid process to ease the burden for applicants.

“The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), whose member institutions serve 90 percent of undergraduates, expects hundreds of colleges and universities to adjust their financial aid processes to align with prior-prior year before the 2017-18 academic year,” the press release states.  

Additionally, students filling out the FAFSA can take advantage of an IRS data retrieval tool, which allows them to electronically retrieve tax information from earlier in the year.

“With the new system in effect, information they can readily access is available,” Lewis Logue said. “In past years students would have trouble filling out the FAFSA because they have to wait to file their taxes which can take a long time. They would have to file for an extension sometimes into the school year, leaving them without aid for the beginning of school.”

Before the improvements to FAFSA, stress of financial burden would hold families back from college, especially those who were not aware of the financial aid available to everyone.

“Learning about aid eligibility options much earlier in the college application and decision process will allow students and families to determine the true cost of attending college, taking available financial aid into account, and make more informed decisions,” the press release states.

Sophomore Erin Behrens found the changes interesting, but not extremely helpful.

“If you’re talking about kids who are applying to college right now this seems like a good idea,” Behrens said. “When I applied to college I was so stressed. [The new FAFSA] will make things all spread out, making it easier so the seniors don’t have to figure out all of the information at once like I did.”

Along with the changes to the FAFSA, the White House also announced the new College Scorecard. This tool has been redesigned to provide national data on colleges and universities to students, parents, and advisers.

The College Scorecard allows anyone to access reliable data on statistics like cost, graduation rates, debt, and post-college earnings. Having that information available along with aid eligibility allows prospective students to make well informed decisions.

Lastly, a major part of the Obama Administration’s effort to invest in America’s future involved awareness of financial aid.

“Colleges and universities and scholarship organizations have already committed to align their aid timelines with the earlier FAFSA, and nonprofits and advisers have committed to raise awareness about the FAFSA changes and to help reach 100 percent FAFSA completion,” the press release states.

Awareness about FAFSA will increase the chances that everyone who is eligible for financial aid can access and use it.

While these changes affect college applicants more than current students, many students can still benefit. Since the process is much easier, USD students who have not explored the possibility of financial aid can apply and see what they are eligible for.

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