The Bottom Line Staff Report

Starting with the 2017-2018 application cycle, students from across the country with plans to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid will be greeted with shorter waiting times and different qualification requirements, as announced by United States Department of Education.

Starting from the fall of 2017, students will no longer have to wait until Jan. 1 of every year to submit the FAFSA in order to receive financial aid. The Department of Education will allow students to submit the FAFSA on Oct. 1. It will remain available to applicants until June 30 of the following year.

In addition, the Department of Education will now require a student’s financial information from two years prior to the current year. During the 2017–18 application cycle, an applicant will need to refer to 2015 financial information. Previously, an applicant would have to draw information from just one year before, so a 2017–18 applicant could have used financial information from 2016 in order to complete the financial information. Now, students will need to look to their financial statements from two years before in order to accurately complete the application.

The decision to make the changes came from a move to align FAFSA deadlines with those of college applications, according to Alexandra Splan, Acting Assistant Director of Operations at the UCSB Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. Now that students can submit from Oct. 1, she said, students can avoid late submissions and missed deadlines.

“Widening the window will make the process more efficient,” Splan said.

The change in the required year of reference will allow students to have a better grasp of their financial information, Splan said. Previously, she said, students had to estimate their own financial information, which could result in inaccurate data.  

Splan said the changes will help those students whose families operate small businesses. “We’re making the process easier for them,” she said.

Some students have expressed their opposition to the changes. Second year biology major Seema Parsapour stated her concern for families with fluctuating incomes and changing lifestyle situations. For some families, she said, incomes range short of a comfortable cushion but too high to qualify for a majority of other student aid programs. “They will be hurt more by this,” Parsapour said.

Students will be able to submit a Request for Review, according to Splan, which will allow financial aid offices to go over the students’ changing circumstances.

“That can be done not just in a change in income or loss of jobs, but also in changes of parents’ marital statuses,” she said. In addition, Splan claims students will be able to account for large medical expenses in the past year.

Splan noted that some students will benefit from the change in year, while others will not. “If your family’s situation is fluctuating,” she said, “we’re never going to go back and say, ‘hey, you made lower income this year, what are you making now?’”

She also said the changes are a result of thorough research that ensured students would not suffer from the shifting requirements.

“There have been a number of studies that were done by the federal government where they monitor the income of lower-income students and they don’t see a whole lot of fluctuation,” she said. “After reviewing how little it fluctuated, they felt comfortable making the change.”

Finally, Splan encouraged students to take advantage of the tax Data Retrieval Tool, which is a function of the Internal Revenue Service. The IRSDRT will allow students to link financial information directly to FAFSA, she said. This will make it less likely that students are selected for FAFSA verification processes, which add time to the FAFSA process as a whole, she said.

“It lowers the probability of having to be selected for the process,” Splan explained. “It’s a huge plus to know it’s coming straight from the IRS.”

Shomik Mukherjee and Linus Li contributed reporting to this article.