October the 1st is here, which marks the kickoff of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2017-2018 academic year. If this seems earlier than usual to you, you are correct. This year the FAFSA has been made available a full three months earlier than previous years. While the change does not appear to be all that significant the new timeline for submission creates an opportunity for every student who is looking to pay for a portion of their college education using federal funds.

Some of you may be asking why the three months is so significant that it warrants a blog post. Below are three reasons why this change is important:

  1. The October 1st opening now means that students use their parents’ income from the previous tax year (i.e. 2015) and not the current tax year (i.e. 2016) when completing their FAFSA. Since the overwhelming majority of students have parents who have already submitted their taxes, students should have access to these documents, allowing for more students to apply, as well as a faster and earlier submission. Even better is the opportunity to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows for a direct import of your parents’ tax information into your FAFSA. You could very well have your FAFSA submitted today!
  2. The new structure, which focuses on the previous year’s tax (i.e. 2015) information does not allow for students to choose between which year’ (2015 or) 2016 will be used So, if you know that your parents’ income for 2016 is going to be less than 2015, you can begin to have conversations with your college’s financial aid department now, rather than in April of 2017.
  3. The earlier deadline may be beneficial for your financial aid package. While many colleges and universities are not changing their FAFSA deadlines from the usual “ASAP after January 1,” you need to be sure that your institution is not in the minority of institutions that are making changes due to the new timeline. Moreover, some states have “first come, first served” financial aid programs, so if lots of students file between October and December 2016 and you file in April or May 2017 as usual, there might be less in the coffer for you.

For more information of the FAFSA changes for the 2017-2018 Academic year, the Department of Education put together a PDF detailing the changes and answers to potential questions: https://goo.gl/IsY6rG

If you are want to go ahead and get your FAFSA started today, here is the link: https://fafsa.ed.gov/