Experts: What does the new FAFSA deadline mean for students and their families?

This year, the FAFSA will be available three months earlier than in previous years, on October 1. What do students need to know? Our financial aid experts have weighed in: 
 
Complete it with the college applications, but be aware of deadlines.
"With the availability of the FAFSA form earlier now, it is best to complete the FAFSA and college admission applications at the same time. In the past students would apply for admission then wait and apply for financial aid. Now, that is not needed. The admission application and the financial aid application are available at the same time.” —Kevin Michelson, Director of Financial Aid, Meredith College. CONTACT: michaelsen@meredith.edu 
 
“Students should be aware that schools may have moved up their priority deadlines to encourage earlier filing, and so it’s very important that students are aware of these dates for the institutions of interest. The Student and one parent should also apply for his/her Federal Student Aid ID and password in order to electronically sign the FAFSA a minimum of 3 days prior to filing the form.” —Kendra Feigert, Director of Financial Aid, Lebanon Valley College. CONTACT: feigert@lvc.edu   
 
There’s a new tool that’ll make it easier.
"The earlier tax information from a completed tax year should help students complete the FAFSA.  There is even the opportunity for most applicants to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which streamlines the income questions on the FAFSA.” —Sheryl Mihopulos, Assistant Vice President, Student Financial Services & Financial Aid Competence, Adelphi University. CONTACT: mihopulo@adelphi.edu
 
“I think families may have hesitated applying earlier in the past due to estimating income. The ease of using the 2015 data with the IRS Data retrieval tool, hopefully, reduces some of the anxiety.” —Erin Wolfe, Director of Student Financial Services, Susquehanna University. CONTACT: wolfeerin@susqu.edu 
 
Don’t panic over prior-prior year tax information.
"Those families concerned that their 2015 FAFSA information not accurately reflecting their current financial situation are encouraged to contact each school individually. The Department of Education, the FAFSA processor, allows colleges and universities to enact, at their discretion, professional judgment to handle unique financial circumstances. This is done on a case by case bases when families can provide to the school documentable changes in their financial circumstances. Each school handles professional judgment differently so it is best to talk with each aid office to learn about their process.” —Kevin Michelson, Director of Financial Aid, Meredith College.  michaelsen@meredith.edu 
 
Keep an eye on deadlines.
"October 1 will be here before we know it. That is the target date the federal government’s release of the 2017 FAFSA (to be used for Fall, 2017 and Spring, 2018 enrollment). While the form can be filed after October 1, Colleges will likely need time to determine financial aid eligibility and notify students. For example, Messiah College hopes to begin sending financial aid packages to new students in mid to late November; but this may happen earlier or later depending on the implementation process of this major change to the financial aid delivery system. Students should stay in touch with their guidance offices and college financial aid offices and check in at FAFSA.gov for updates.” —John Chopka, Vice President for Enrollment Management, Messiah College. CONTACT: jchopka@messiah.edu
 
"Students and parents may want to ask colleges if their timelines for scholarships awarded outside of the merit process have changed their timelines or application process. For example, is the FAFSA now required where it hasn’t been in the past? The financial aid process is linked to so many things, and every school operationalizes it a little differently so the best thing that parents and students can do is educate themselves and ask questions.” —Sara Newhouse, vice president for admission and financial planning at Birmingham-Southern College. CONTACT: snewhous@bsc.edu
 
It may still be first come first serve in your state.
"It is true that some state aid is on a first come first served basis, but that has always been true. The new FAFSA actually gives more people the opportunity to file early. Since 2015 tax information is in the IRS system, now nearly everyone can import that information into the new FAFSA. Before, not everyone had their taxes done and often had to wait to file an accurate FAFSA. The new FAFSA allows nearly everyone the same opportunity to file an accurate FAFSA earlier.” —Kendra Feigert, Director of Financial Aid, Lebanon Valley College. CONTACT: feigert@lvc.edu   
 
"Families need to know that state aid is limited. I would encourage all students to file their FAFSA as soon as possible and connect with the admission staff at the schools they will attend in order to follow up on their application for admission. Generally speaking, students are not packaged until they’ve been admitted. While submitting a FAFSA later in the year should not affect their access to the Federal Direct Loan program or Pell Grants, those programs that fall under the Campus-Based Programs (Federal Work-Study, Perkins Loans and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant) funds are limited and could be unavailable late in the award cycle.” —Brian Quisenberry, director of financial planning at Birmingham-Southern College. CONTACT:  bquisenb@bsc.edu
 
It’ll give you plenty of time to make informed decisions.
"The early FAFSA also allows earlier aid packages for students applying for admission through Early Decision or Action. Early Decision is a binding application program, while Early Action is a non-binding application program.  Early Decision and Early Action admission applications are usually due mid-fall, different from regular decision deadlines, which tend to be after January 1st.  An earlier aid package may allow families more time to figure out how they plan to handle the cost of college. Families might consider applying Early Decision or Action for that very reason.” —Kevin Michelson, Director of Financial Aid, Meredith College.  michaelsen@meredith.edu