Applying for financial aid for college is a little different this year. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, opens Oct. 1, instead of Jan. 1, and students will use 2015 tax information when applying.
“FAFSA changes should really benefit students and their families,” said Brenda Burke, executive director of the University of Utah Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. “The new timeline allows families to use tax information that is already available, and they’ll know what aid they qualify for before they make their final decision about where to attend school.”
In order to be considered for the maximum amount of aid programs, including need-based scholarships, grants and work-study, the FAFSA must be completed by Feb. 1 at the University of Utah. Other universities may have different priority deadlines.
Changes to the form also make filing quicker and simpler. According to the U.S. Department of Education, it takes an average of 21 minutes to complete the FAFSA. And because the tax information should already be filed, applicants have the option to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import tax data directly into the FAFSA application.
“Everyone should complete the FAFSA, whether they plan to accept the funds offered or not,” Burke said. “Many of our students qualify for money that does not need to be repaid. Additionally, many of the scholarships we have available for students are only offered to those who have completed the FAFSA.”
Even if a student only qualifies for loans, which do have to be repaid once a person is no longer enrolled in school, university financial aid representatives still recommend that students apply.
“Student may accept all, part or none of the loan money they are offered,” Burke said. “Even if students don’t plan to accept loan money, we have seen many instances where unexpected circumstances arise, and having access to the loans has been the difference between staying in school and dropping out.”
Historically, Utah has had one of the lowest FAFSA completion rates in the country, but the number began to rise this year. The new deadline may continue this trend.
“Our students have may responsibilities and are balancing work, family and school at once,” Burke said. “We want them to have access to funds that could make their lives easier.”
The University of Utah Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid will hold open houses and workshops for the Early FAFSA in the upcoming months. For more information, visit financialaid.utah.edu/news/early-fafsa.php. Additional resources are available at financialaid.utah.edu, fafsa.gov or studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa.