“The move to an earlier FAFSA cycle — with the form available in October instead of January and families using year-older tax data — has really helped smooth out the process both for students and for colleges,” he said. “The financial aid community had been pushing for this change for years, and we’re really pleased that it finally happened and seems to be working well.”
The change to earlier tax data eliminates the need to estimate income or update the FAFSA after filing taxes.
Johnson said having the FAFSA available earlier allows students to have more financial information when picking schools.
“By opening the FAFSA earlier, families have more time to complete it, colleges have more time to process it and most students at UNC got an earlier answer about their financial aid than they have in previous years,” he said. “That allows more time to consider all of your college options and make the best financial choice.”
Ribe said students should remember to think about their financial game plan broadly when filling out the FAFSA.
“While it’s called financial aid, really much of the financing are loans from the federal government, and you’re going to have to pay those back after you graduate,” he said. “A lot of students may be thinking about trying to borrow as much as they can in order to finance a student lifestyle, but they should be keeping in mind that they’re going to have to pay that money back with interest.”
Johnson said moving the availability date to October has provided more opportunity for students to consult financial aid counselors, especially in complicated financial circumstances.
“Using older tax data means that financial aid counselors have a lot more time to focus on students and families with special circumstances,” he said. “Aid counselors work directly with students all the time to sort through complicated family situations — so we want to hear from you if something major has happened that affects your ability to pay for college.”
Ribe said all students should complete the FAFSA.
“As many students as possible should, because they may qualify for aid that they were not aware of previously,” he said.
Financial aid assistance can be found both at universities and organizations such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
FAFSA applications for the 2017-18 school year are due by June 30, 2018. Funds are provided on a first-come, first-served basis.