FAFSA changes moving ahead

October 27, 2015

Students will be able to apply three months earlier than in the past

Myths about Federal Student Aid
(Information provided by the Department of Education)
Myth 1: My parents make too much money. There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. Many factors besides income—from the size of your family to the age of your older parent—are taken into account. Your eligibility is determined by a mathematical formula, not by your parents’ income alone. And remember: when you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, you’re also automatically applying for funds from your state, and possibly from your school as well. In fact, some schools won’t even consider you for any of their scholarships (including academic scholarships) until you’ve submitted a FAFSA. Don’t make assumptions about what you’ll get— fill out the application and find out.Myth 2: Only students with good grades get financial aid. While a high grade point average will help a student get into a good school and may help with academic scholarships, most of the federal student aid programs do not take a student’s grades into consideration. Provided a student maintains satisfactory academic progress in his or her program of study, federal student aid will help a student with an average academic record complete his or her education.Myth 3: I’m too old to get financial aid. Funds from federal student aid programs are awarded on the basis of financial need, not on the basis of age. Adult students can get financial aid, so be sure to fill out the FAFSA.Myth 4: The form is too hard to fill out. The FAFSA is easier than ever, especially if you fill it out online at www.fafsa.gov. There are detailed instructions for every question, and the form walks you through step by step, asking only the questions that apply to you. If you need help, you can access real-time, private online chat with a customer service representative. If you’re filling out the paper FAFSA, you can get help from a high school counselor, from the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend, or from our toll-free number: 1-800-4-FED-AID. And remember, the FAFSA and all these sources of advice are FREE.

 

Changes have been made to the way students find out their financial aid options. Starting Oct. 1, 2016, students will be able to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA, for the following academic year three full months earlier than was previously allowed.

According to North Dakota University System Director of Financial Aid Brenda Zastoupil, applicants will use “prior-prior” tax year data, which reflects another change in the process.

“The applicants will use income information from two-year-old completed tax returns rather than the information from just the previous year, which was sometimes incomplete as of Jan. 1,” Zastoupil said. “It will give students and families access to financial aid information earlier for better college planning.”

To prepare for that change, NDUS Core Technology Services employees have begun working with individual campuses.

There was still much to learn about the 2017-2018 FAFSA change implementation. Zastoupil added that in the lead-up to the change, there would be clarification sought on other related topics, such as if the need-based ND State Student Incentive Grant will be available to award earlier.

All students will still be eligible to complete the application, and will be encouraged to fill out the paperwork as soon as the yearly cycle opens. Students are advised to complete the application as early as possible to ensure they are awarded the most aid possible, including institutional, state and federal aid, where applicable.

“We encourage all students to complete the FAFSA each year to take advantage of as many financial aid opportunities as possible,” Zastoupil said. “The FAFSA is used to determine the federal Pell Grant, federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Work Study and federal student loans. In addition, the State of N.D. uses the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the N.D. State Student Incentive Grant.”

Zastoupil noted that in the past year, NDUS personnel collaborated with staff at the Bank of North Dakota in order to assist high school counselors in determining the number of FAFSA completions for their graduating seniors.

According to Zastoupil, this aggregate data the collaboration found indicated that about 50 percent of high school seniors graduating in 2015 had completed the FAFSA for the 2015-16 academic year. That compared to 50 percent in Minnesota, 55 percent in South Dakota, and 47 percent in Montana.

“Increasing FAFSA completion rates is a nation-wide goal,” Zastoupil added. “It is widely believed that if a student completes the FAFSA, they are more likely to matriculate into college and have a successful start.”

Those trends helped prompt a national effort called the FAFSA Completion Initiative, which would provide high school counselors with student-level data. Currently, NDUS has no formalized plans to participate, although discussion was ongoing on how and when to move forward with it.

Zastoupil noted it was a very positive effort that could greatly help school counselors, financial aid offices and ultimately the student as they will be prepared financially before they get to the campus for classes.

“By getting student-level data into the hands of high school counselors, those counselors can continue to support and encourage the students to complete the FAFSA,” she said. “I also believe that this grass-roots approach is less intimidating for the seniors as they transition into college.”

The FAFSA is free and can be accessed at fafsa.gov.