Two major changes for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are affecting the 2017-18 school year application season.

  1. The FAFSA is available earlier, starting on Oct. 1 of the previous year instead of Jan. 1 of the upcoming school year.
  2. The FAFSA collects income information from an earlier tax year — prior prior year (PPY).

These changes can help colleges better assist students in the financial aid process and potentially achieve higher matriculation in the fall. “Summer melt,” wherein college-intending students fail to matriculate in the fall, is a double loss, hurting both the students whose college dreams fall by the wayside, and the schools that were counting on them to attend. Often, cost is the culprit.

With the new changes designed to make the FAFSA easier to complete right away, schools have a great opportunity to educate their prospective (and current) students about the benefits of earlier financial planning to help ease the transition to college and prevent any late roadblocks related to unforeseen expenses.

With costs climbing every year, an earlier window to file the FAFSA can benefit students and colleges in several ways:

  • First, a more cohesive application process for college and financial aid makes for a much better experience for students. Aligning the FAFSA more closely to the timing of application for admission reduces stress and reassures students that financial assistance is available from the very beginning of the college application process.
  • Second, students will not have to wait for the current year’s tax return before completing the FAFSA. For example, the 2017-18 FAFSA requires 2015 income information. Given the fact that many schools and states often have FAFSA deadlines before the April 15 tax return deadline, using prior prior year tax forms allows students and their families to get a better idea of how much aid they are eligible for — and to get that information much sooner.
  • Third, more time is available in the winter and spring to explore other financial aid and loan options before enrollment deadlines in May. The extra time can allow students and their families to make more informed decisions about their investments in education.

The earlier FAFSA can help empower students, who may have never thought of college as an option, to confidently apply for college admission knowing that financial aid can help pay for tuition. Enforcing that notion in prospective students can increase the applicant pipeline. Colleges are also able to provide financial aid packages to admitted students at an earlier time. This allows students to fully weigh their options and increases the possibility of attending in the coming fall, knowing that tuition is not at sticker price.

The best tool to drive this reinforcement is now easier than ever. Text messaging has proven to be an effective communication method to help current students succeed. Colleges can send text messages directly to prospective and admitted students with reminders that financial aid is available, college can be affordable, to complete the FAFSA, and to explore all the financial aid and loan options available to them.

These text reminders not only benefit prospective and admitted students. Current students often forget that they also need to resubmit the FAFSA every year. Timely reminders nudging students to refile as soon as the FAFSA is available on Oct. 1 will help ensure that students return to school again in the fall after summer break.

The improvements to the FAFSA have opened a new window of opportunity to attract students in a meaningful new way. If you are interested in learning how AdmitHub plays a critical role in capitalizing on that opportunity, please feel free to contact us.