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Earlier FAFSA Timelines Proving Popular With Students, Survey Finds

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By guest blogger Caralee Adams

Many students appear to be accepting the federal government's invitation to file their financial aid applications three months earlier than usual, according to a survey released this week.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid was available on Oct. 1 this year and college officials report that, on average after the first month, they already had received 32 percent of the total FAFSA filings they received for the whole of last year's incoming class. This information was revealed in the national survey of 171 enrollment managers at public and private four-year colleges and universities by Royall and Company, a division of the EAB, a research and technology company. 

"Schools have been encouraging families to think about this as an opportunity that the earlier is the better in terms of access to financial resources," says Pamela Kiecker Royall, the head of research for the Richmond, Va.-based company.  Rather than waiting until Jan. 1 to apply, moving the FASFA timetable gives collegesmore time to build relationships with students so families can make more informed decisions before enrolling.  Royall said this shifts the student relationship out of the high school counselors' hands to the college admissions offices sooner, but colleges have been staffing up to prepare for the change.

Just how colleges adjust award timetables is still unknown. The Royall survey found 57 percent of colleges intend to send out their need-based offers to students two to eight weeks earlier than last year.  Another survey by Boston-based technology company Cegment, Inc. in August revealed nearly 77 percent of colleges are planning to deliver financial award letters earlier than in previous years. 

The Department of Education rule changes that permitted the earlier application and let families submit "prior-prior year" tax information (from 2015)  were aimed at streamlining the process of awarding grants and loans. 

Families tend to underestimate their eligibility for college financial aid and eligibility and that misconception can be a barrier that keeps them from applying. While an EAB survey this summer showed 37 percent of students  believed they would qualify for financial aid, about 85 percent of all college-going students receive some form of federal financial aid, according to the National Center for Education Statistics 

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