With average loan debts up to unprecedented levels, going to college is incredibly costly.
That means people can potentially miss out on thousands of dollars to help pay for college, just because they neglected to fill out a form.
For Carrie Warick, the director of policy and advocacy with the National College Access Network, this is a sign of a much larger problem.
“Completing the FAFSA is an important first step to enrolling in college,” says Warick. “Making the process simpler for students is necessary to encourage them to continue their educations.”
Importance of completing the FAFSA
We all know one of the core barriers to higher education is cost. And the price of tuition and the impact of student loan debt can be overwhelming.
To make college more accessible to students, the government announced changes to the FAFSA process for the 2017-2018 school year. Intended to increase the number of application completions, the FAFSA changes are significant compared to the rules of previous years.
Federal financial aid in the form of grants and loans can ease your financial burden. Through FAFSA, students can get valuable Pell grants, which can keep them from needing to take out additional student loans.
Encouraging students to complete the FAFSA is an important step towards receiving an affordable higher education.
Application period extension
Since tuition can vary from school to school, students in the past often applied without knowing if they will receive enough financial aid to cover college costs.
However, with these new FAFSA changes, finding out their financial aid information ahead of time can help students decide where to apply for school based on the total cost after financial aid.
“One of the most significant changes is that the government extended the period to complete the FAFSA,” explains Warick. “Families will be able to complete it starting on October 1 rather than having to wait until January 1.”
“That will give people more time to complete the forms and get their financial aid information,” adds Warick. “Then they can make a decision about where to go to school.”
Complete financial information insertion
Another major change is the use of entire prior year taxes to complete FAFSA.
Previously, families had to try to complete the FAFSA form using incomplete taxes without all of their W-2s or 1099s. Now, families can complete the FAFSA using tax returns that they have already submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
“In previous years, families had to rush to get their taxes done or use estimates,” Warick says. “That increased the chances of errors and incorrect information. Now that they can use the information from the taxes they already filed, they are better prepared and more accurate.”
Moreover, applicants can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This useful site allows students to import their tax information directly from their tax returns into the FAFSA application.
FAFSA applicants can now save time and minimize errors thanks to this IRS tool since students will no longer have to manually enter their information.
Concerns about FAFSA changes
While changes were instituted to make things simpler for students and increase FAFSA completion, Warick does worry about unintended consequences.
“We’ve seen some institutions change their deadlines to November, rather than abiding by the new FAFSA timeline,” says Warick. “That means that some students will only have six weeks between completing FAFSA and applying to schools.”
“That tight period is why we encourage colleges and universities not to truncate their deadlines,” Warick adds.
By providing more time to complete FAFSA and making it easier to fill out by using completed tax information, the changes will help schools and grant-makers make faster decisions on student aid.
And by offering information on what aid will be available earlier on in the process, families can make more informed decisions regarding college selection.
“For high school seniors, unless they had a sibling or family member recently complete FAFSA, they won’t notice anything different,” said Warick. “Instead, we’re focused on encouraging people to complete the FAFSA early to get the financial aid they are entitled too.”
The FAFSA changes will not bring down the cost of tuition or decrease reliance on student loans. However, it should simplify the process and provide more time to students to select the appropriate school.
Warick said, “The federal government made these FAFSA changes to make things easier on families.”
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