On Oct.1, the U.S. Department of Education will introduce new rules regarding how and when the nation’s colleges award financial aid.
The rule changes appear to be a boon for college applicants and their families, while college admissions offices are scrambling to prepare for the changes, Cegment, a provider of college enrollment marketing technologies and services, reported Monday.
Cegment polled 1,031 high school seniors and their parents in early April, and 543 college professionals between March and May about how the changes would affect colleges and students and their families.
Two procedural changes will go into effect on Oct 1, Cegment said.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available for completion three months earlier than before. In addition, students applying to college for the academic year starting in fall 2017 will be able to complete the form using income and tax data from the 2015 calendar year, a full year earlier than in the past.
Cegment said the goal of these changes was to simplify the financial aid application process and give students a much earlier understanding of the affordability of each college under consideration.
Allowing students to file the FAFSA earlier and receive estimated or firm financial aid award letters up to six months earlier could cause important shifts in the timing of the traditional higher education enrollment cycle.
Here are the effects of key shifts:
- The admissions application phase now coincides with the FAFSA phase, so students can know both where they have been admitted and what the associated financial aid packages are.
- The timing of estimated and/or actual award letter delivery may now vary substantially by institution, enabling colleges to shape the preferences of prospective students much earlier.
- Students will have much longer to decide which college they will choose to apply to and/or attend.
- A longer college selection and deposit phase will increase the burden on institutions to nurture relationships with prospective students over a longer period of time.
“These changes will give students and families more time to plan and select a college with earlier and more complete information,” Cegment founder Craig Carroll said in a statement.
“College cost and financial aid eligibility will move even more to the forefront of the decision process, while colleges will be faced with an even longer admissions cycle than before.”
According to the survey, 69% of students and their parents expected to apply for financial aid, and more than two-thirds of these said it would be helpful to get an understanding of financial aid eligibility earlier in the college planning process.
Ninety percent of those intending to apply for aid said they would like financial aid awards earlier than the historical March award letter delivery, with 41% saying they would like to receive their firm financial aid award in the fall semester of their senior year.