How the Rise in FAFSA Filings for High School Seniors Affects You
High school seniors submitted approximately 8.6% more Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by June 30 in 2017 than in 2016, according to the National College Access Network (NCAN). About 154,000 more high school seniors filed a 2017-18 FAFSA through June 2017. This reverses a trend of FAFSA filings falling for five years since 2011-12.
The switch to Prior-Prior Year (PPY) tax information is a possible reason for the rise in FAFSA submissions. PPY allows prospective college students to submit financial aid applications at the same time as college admissions applications.
The increase in the number of FAFSAs is also likely due to families’ use of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool until its outage in March. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool meshes well with PPY, since most tax returns should already have been filed by the October 1 start date for the FAFSA.
The U.S. Department of Education says that access to the IRS Data Retrieval Tool should be restored on October 1. Prospective college students should take advantage of this by filing their FAFSA as soon as they can after it opens. Many will be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer tax information into the FAFSA.
Families who file the FAFSA during the first three months of the application season, from October to December, tend to receive more than twice as much financial aid as those who submit it later. A dozen states award state grants based on the FAFSA on a first-come, first-served basis. Low and moderate-income students tend to file their FAFSAs later, causing them to lose out on some gift aid.
The NCAN data hints at the breaking of a five-year-long downward trend in the number of FAFSAs filed each year, based on federal figures analyzed by Cappex. If more high school seniors are applying for financial aid, it’s likely the total number of FAFSAs will rise. If the number of FAFSAs submitted in the 2017-18 academic year matches the increase shown by the NCAN data, the total number of FAFSAs will return to about the number last seen in the 2014-15 academic year.
Getting the best financial aid depends not just on meeting a deadline, but also on filing an accurate application as soon as possible. With the FAFSA application season opening on October 1, ask your parents about setting up a FSA ID and gathering necessary documents ahead of time. Review your application with your parents before submitting it to avoid potentially-expensive mistakes.