Every year, millions of students and their families file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Colleges use this form to help determine how much a family can reasonably contribute financially and how much financial aid is provided to them. There are a couple of changes to this process this year. Starting with the school year of 2017-2018, students may apply for federal financial aid in the fall (October 1st), which is months earlier than normal. The decision to move up this window was focused on allowing students to have more time evaluating their financial aid options, thereby allowing the students more time to better understand what schools that they are able to afford and attend.
Another noteworthy change to note is that this year will be the first year that the FAFSA will require two years of tax information, which is different than the previously required one year of information. This change was made in order to promote more consistency.
The changes seem to be both positive, while at the same time, presenting new challenges. It is a good thing for the student and family to have additional time to make the decision on which school to attend. But this also presents a challenge as the process is longer and can incentivize the prospective student to take the first attractive offer, without waiting for the others to come in.