How is the FAFSA Completed?
It is recommended that the FAFSA be completed online as this option is a significantly faster and more streamlined process. THe FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year is available NOW! When applying for the FAFSA online, the system has checks in place that review for common errors, ensuring that the form is completely filled out, and helping to reduce submission errors. Although it is strongly recommended that families complete the FAFSA online, there are other application options available for those that need an alternative process. Families can download a PDF version of the FAFSA or call 1-800-4FED-AID and request that the paper FAFSA be mailed. When using one of these two options, families will mail in the completed form to the Federal FAFSA Processing Center. These options have longer processing times.
What about the Timing of the FAFSA?
Many families ask about the timing of filing the FAFSA and their ability to pay for college. The FAFSA captures a “snapshot” of your financial situation at a given time and calculates a family’s ability to pay for college. Income information from the base year tax return is taken into consideration when filing the FAFSA. What does “base year tax return” mean? This refers to the tax return filed for the “prior prior year” (PPY): for example, for a student heading off to college in September 2017, the base year tax return is the one filed for tax year 2015. Since the federal financial aid formula is designed to treat financially similar families in a comparable way when determining financial aid eligibility, the FAFSA collects base year tax information and determines an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based on that information.
In many cases, family financial information may remain constant from year to year with only slight income increases. However, in some cases information on the base year tax return may not adequately reflect a family’s true financial situation either due to a single financial event or an up or down change in finances. Please see the section on Professional Judgment on this website for a discussion of special situations and extenuating circumstances and how they should be handled.