Aid Package Timing under Early FAFSA: before April 17, but not December

May 4, 2016

Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy

On April 12, U.S. Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell asked college presidents "to consider providing earlier award notifications in order to maximize the benefits to students and their families consistent with the President’s Early FAFSA initiative." NCAN is a strong supporter of Early FAFSA, which will make the form available October 1 for the 2017-18 academic year, giving students more time to file and to “shop around” for institutions with their federal aid eligibility in mind. We agree that because many students will complete the FAFSA sooner than in the past, institutions should commit to providing financial aid packages to admitted students sooner. In fact, we recommend that all Title IV institutions provide aid packages no later than April 17 to provide students two weeks before the May 1 deadline to commit to their institutions to compare options.

Historically, there has always been a time crunch in financial aid applications. Because many students filed FAFSA in the February –March, institutions were challenged to process award packages by the same time admissions acceptances were issued in early to mid-April. Thus, many institutions have sent financial aid packages to students considerably after their acceptance notifications, sometimes even after the deadline for students to commit to enrollment. The late aid awards have put low-income students at a significant disadvantage, giving them little time to compare awards and make important financial decisions. Sometimes they even lose their seat at an institution because they don’t receive any aid package before the date to commit to enrollment. As Undersecretary Mitchell suggest, with the FAFSA start date moved up by three months, there is now no reason for institutions to send late aid awards. 

Institutions should not, however, take this opportunity to move up their application deadlines in an effort to get an enrollment management advantage. Traditionally, students have applied to college in the late fall or winter with deadlines ranging from December 15 to February 1, and those deadlines need to stay the same. With early FAFSA, students will be able to complete their financial aid application in October or November, get their federal aid eligibility approximately two weeks later, and still have a few weeks to research and apply to colleges. Any institution that move up its admission deadlines will take away the early FAFSA advantage from students, shutting them out of the opportunity to conduct a well-informed college search and unnecessarily exacerbating an already stressful time in their lives.



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