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State of Student Debt in America

The Time to Submit Your FAFSA is NOW

If you’re wondering when the best time to submit your FAFSA is, it’s NOW.

While the official “open date” for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for Fall 2018 was October 1, 2017, many students and families will delay filling out and submitting the form until early in 2018.

WARNING: Waiting to fill out and submit the FAFSA may cost you.

It’s best to get it in early. Here’s why: The FAFSA is a nationally recognized document that aids colleges and Universities in the distribution of federal and state funds, grants and other awards. As you might imagine, these awards are limited based on the institution and many state and federal programs have deadlines.

If it seems incredibly early to be submitting these, you probably remember not needing to submit the FAFSA until the Spring semester. Roughly two years ago, the U.S. Department of Education elected to go to a prior prior year filing system to give college admission and financial aid officers more time to generate financial aid package offers to incoming students.

(The “prior prior” year system alludes to the fact that for the 2018/2019 school year, the taxes for 2016 will be used. Hence, prior prior year.)

It actually makes perfect sense -- up until 2015, the FAFSA open date was January 1, yet most families were filing the FAFSA once they had taxes completed for the prior year. For many, this meant they weren’t filing until mid-April (or not at all!). With college decisions looming and no FAFSA to generate the financial aid package, it created a major bottleneck for admissions and financial aid folks. Not to mention a very stressful and rushed decision-making process when choosing the “right” school.

The Move To Strategic Enrollment

Colleges and Universities are not only vying for the attention of highly qualified and capable students, they also want students who are likely to finish their degrees, all the while creating a well-rounded, diversified student body. To facilitate this, many schools have moved to a process called strategic enrollment management.

To simplify what this means as it relates to the FAFSA, imagine that the school you are considering has 100 buckets filled with money. As students are accepted and awarded financial aid, the money they receive comes from one of the 100 buckets that has a certain characteristic tied to it. The buckets might read: high gpa, lower income family, Asian American, East Coast, Midwest, musical ability, STEM field, first generation college student, etc. Any variety of categories that the University has deemed they need to create a diversified student body.

When the FAFSA is completed and submitted to the University with an application, the admissions and financial aid teams decide which bucket to pull funds from to offer that student as part of their financial aid package. When the money has been claimed from those buckets, there likely is no more money available for that particular characteristic. As more individuals submit their FAFSA early (like NOW), the funds that occupy the buckets will go faster than usual. The end result will be a number of potential students who theoretically should get aid of some kind, but may not due to the delayed submission.

But My Child Got a 30 On Their ACT

I overheard a parent discussing one of the schools their child had applied to and they were berating the decision making of that school saying, “I can’t believe they aren’t willing to give my daughter more aid to go here, she got a 30 on her ACT!”

Not able to help myself, I asked him, “Did she apply in the Spring?”

“Yes, probably late March, why?”

I wanted to say, “The high ACT score bucket was empty by then”. But instead I explained the strategic enrollment process and what they could do to ensure funds were available for future semesters.

The reality is, with a limited amount of funds available in the way of grants and scholarships, and a sped up process of filing the paperwork, ‘you snooze you lose’ may be more true than you know.

Get Help Filing The FAFSA

While FAFSA.ED.GOV has done a great job of providing tools to simplify the filling out and filing of the application (like the IRS tool that literally pulls the information from the proper year’s tax filing into the document for you), there are probably still questions you have that require a professional to answer them.

If this whole process is foreign to you and it’s causing concern, don’t hesitate to contact your financial aid officer, a CPA, or a financial planner to help answer the questions. By and large the financial aid and admissions offices do a great job of assisting families through this process, the goal being they have a better shot of getting that student.

BOTTOM LINE: If you haven’t yet submitted your application, the time is NOW.

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