College-Bound Students Can Fill Out Their FAFSA Forms 3 Months Earlier Starting Next Year

Each year Consumerist reminds college-bound students and their families that billions of dollars in college aid will go unclaimed because so many people won’t take the time to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA] form. But a new initiative by the Department of Education aims to change that by revamping the application process: starting it earlier and making it easier to fill out.

The current FAFSA application process begins in January and can’t be completed until tax forms can be retrieved from the Internal Revenue Service.

The Department of Education today announced that starting in the fall of 2016 it will better align the FAFSA process with that of the college application process, allowing families to fill out the FAFSA form starting October 1 for the following academic year.

By moving the start date for the FAFSA process up three months, the Department believe it can better show students the “true cost” of attending college while they start their college application process, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tells the Chicago Tribune.

Additionally, the new initiative will streamline the often daunting task of filling out the tax-like form by utilizing earlier tax information. Families will now be able to use a tool that directly retrieves their tax information directly from the IRS.

By using the tool, the Dept. of Education estimates the time needed to fill out a FAFSA form will decrease from one hour to about 20 minutes.

“This earlier and easier access to financial aid information will make it simpler for students to access critical federal student aid dollars and will offer more accurate information about college costs as students decide where to enroll,” the Dept. of Education said in a blog post on Monday.

Duncan tells the Chicago Tribune that the new process could have a huge impact on students over time.

“We estimate that over the next several years, literally hundreds of thousands of additional students will actually gain access to critical student aid each year, because more students and their families will find it easier to apply for that aid,” he said.

New Tools to Help Students Make Informed Decisions About Higher Education [The Department of Education]
[via The Chicago Tribune]