Early FAFSA and the Time Crunch

July 27, 2016

By Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy 

Update: Ted Mitchell, the top higher education official at the U.S. Department of Education, wrote to college presidents on Aug 8 asking them “not to move any priority financial aid deadlines earlier than your deadlines for recent years,” so as not to unintentionally harm low-income and first-generation students applying for financial aid this fall. 
 
Mitchell also reiterated his request that colleges be “working to provide your prospective students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, with financial aid packages as early as possible." He continued, "I understand that it may be a challenge to balance the twin objectives of providing award packages earlier and not setting earlier priority deadlines that some colleges use to prompt students to apply for state and institutional aid,” Mitchell continued. “One way to address this issue would be to carefully analyze historical trends, making adjustments for anticipated demographic and timing changes, especially the change to the early FAFSA, and adjusting award strategies so that those students with the most need have full access to funds, regardless of when they apply.”

Early FAFSA starts this October, and NCAN is excited for all of the opportunities it will provide to students. Students will know their federal financial aid sooner, have more time to explore colleges, and an easier time filling out the FAFSA because their taxes will already have been completed. However, actions by colleges and universities to drastically move up deadlines could take away one of these advantages: the chance to explore colleges. Institutions that move "priority aid deadlines" into November will hurt students by forcing a time crunch of FAFSA and college application processes.

NCAN recommends that colleges set their financial aid priority deadlines no earlier than Feb. 1. For students and those helping them complete the college application process, be sure to closely watch the deadlines on colleges' websites to be sure they've been updated for the 2017-18 academic year.

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