This op-ed piece by Kathy Kelly, director of student administrative services, appeared in the Community Press papers.
Change is good, right? I have worked in a college financial aid office since the seventies. Between the federal, state, and institutional changes that are a regular occurrence in this environment, you learn to adapt to change. Every so often, the change can be welcomed and embraced. This year’s earlier release of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of those long-awaited, much-debated, game-changers that should simplify the college financial aid process for many students and their families.
The FAFSA form is used by college-bound students to apply for federal, state, and need-based college and university funds. The application gathers financial information that is used to determine eligibility for grants, loans, and jobs on campus. Starting this year, students will be able to complete the FAFSA form starting on October 1, much earlier than the previous January 1 release date.
For students and their parents in the college selection process, this should make things easier. By aligning the financial aid process with the admission process, as high school seniors apply to colleges and universities this fall, they will also be able to work with their parents to file a FAFSA form. The expectation is that this synergy will get more students through both activities successfully.
This timing change will also make the results of the application process more reliable for parents and students. Before this change, parents had to estimate the information they were providing based on a tax return that was still being worked on. Now students and parents will use data from their already completed and filed 2015 return. This means students will have a more accurate financial aid package earlier in their college decision-making process and it should enable them to make their final college decision well before most colleges’ May 1 deadline.
We understand this might sound overwhelming, so Mount St. Joseph University’s financial aid department is ready to help. We will be at many high schools’ college nights and scholarship information sessions to explain this process and to answer your questions. We encourage parents to attend their high school’s information session and to come prepared with questions. For the parents of students who apply to the Mount, we will walk you through the process—either in person, on the phone or online—so it doesn’t seem like such a daunting task. For more information on the FAFSA and the federal financial aid process, visit www.studentaid.ed.gov.
By managing the process and taking advantage of applying for financial aid earlier you and your student will have better and more timely information as you work to select the best, most affordable option for the next phase of his/her education.