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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

New FAFSA Timeline Brings Aid Deadlines into Question

August 30, 2016

For the first time this year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available in October, rather than in January. But schools shouldn’t bump up their financial aid deadlines as well, Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell advised in a recent letter.

The FAFSA for 2017-18 will be available on October 1, 2016, rather than January 1, 2017. Families will be able to use income tax data from two years prior—now known as prior-prior year or PPY—which they will be able to automatically import using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. 

The earlier availability will give students and parents more time to complete the form, but Mitchell asserts the effort will effectively become moot if colleges and universities similarly shift priority deadlines for aid.

"[M]oving institutional aid deadlines earlier could put undue pressure on high school seniors to rush through the financial aid and college admissions process, counteracting one of the main benefits of an early FAFSA—more time to explore and apply to schools," Mitchell wrote in the letter that was sent on behalf of Education Secretary John King.

"I understand that it may be a challenge to balance the twin objectives of providing award packages earlier and not setting earlier priority deadlines that some colleges use to prompt students to apply for state and institutional aid," Mitchell acknowledged in the letter.

ED is particularly concerned that early priority aid deadlines could most negatively impact low-income and first-generation students who often have the least amount of information and support through the college financial aid and admissions application processes.

Officials at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) have been in contact with the department to express concerns that for many schools, particularly those with institutional aid, providing a package without moving a priority deadline is not functionally possible, with the alternative being first-come, first-serve packaging.  It is also possible that institutions trying to meet both ED suggestions of early award notification and later deadlines could run out of aid before getting to all students who applied by the deadline.

Ultimately, institutions should be mindful of the impact deadline changes can have on disadvantaged students and preserve the ability to provide late filers access to financial aid to the fullest extent possible.


Liz Clark
Senior Director, Federal Affairs