Jump start: New, earlier college financial aid filing period underway

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The federal financial aid application process is underway two months earlier than in previous years, a change that could benefit young people across Hampton Roads, such as these 2016 ACCESS Scholars from the ACCESS College Foundation. (Photo Courtesy ACESS College Foundation)

The federal financial aid application process is underway two months earlier than in previous years, a change that could benefit young people across Hampton Roads, such as these 2016 ACCESS Scholars from the ACCESS College Foundation. (Photo Courtesy ACCESS College Foundation)

Current and prospective college students can now begin the process of preparing their applications for the federal financial aid that can help turn their higher education goals into reality.

October 1 marked the beginning of a new, earlier filing period for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

Previously FAFSA forms couldn’t be filed until Jan. 1 of the year in which financial aid was being requested. But the new fall filing period allows students and their families to submit their financial aid requests earlier each year.

The change creates a better alignment between the financial aid and college application processes, thereby providing greater certainty for students, according to ACCESS College Foundation, a Norfolk-based organization that assists Hampton Roads students in navigating those processes.

The earlier filing period also allows more time for students and parents to explore and understand their financial aid options ahead of state and school deadlines for applying for aid.

“Filling out the FAFSA as soon as possible increases your chances of receiving (financial) aid,” says Bonnie Sutton, president and CEO of ACCESS College Foundation. “While the priority filing deadlines aren’t until after Jan. 1, 2017, if your school is awarding financial aid or admission on a rolling basis, you are advantaged by having your information in early.”

Another change to the FAFSA process this year requires students and their families to report income and tax information from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017-18 FAFSA form, students will report their 2015 income information rather than their 2016 information. Since 2015 taxes already have been completed, students and parents won’t need to estimate their tax information and then have to go back into the FAFSA later to update it.

Sutton says that ACCESS College Foundation has advisors who can assist students through the updated FAFSA process in each Southside public high school and in Northampton County.

 

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