This year’s Yale financial aid applications will allow students to submit the nationally used Free Application for Federal Student Age portion of their applications two months earlier than usual in order to make the process easier and reduce the pressure of applying to college without a financial aid estimate.
This revision of FAFSA — which allows students to submit household tax information from an earlier fiscal year than before — was announced by President Barack Obama in September 2015, though this round of college applicants are the first to experience the changes. In the past, students were able to submit the FAFSA to colleges starting Jan. 1 using tax data from the most recent fiscal year. But this fall, current and prospective college students will be able to submit the FAFSA application starting Oct. 1 and will be able to use tax data from up to two years prior.
The FAFSA is a standardized federal financial aid form that is used by the U.S. Department of Education to calculate a student’s expected family contribution, a figure based on factors including income, assets and household information. Colleges and universities then use this information to determine how much aid to distribute to students.
The changes to FAFSA will allow students to receive an estimated financial aid offer from a school before they apply. At Yale and other colleges nationwide, these changes may significantly alter a student’s approach to the college application process, since they will now have more information about their financial aid eligibilities.
Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said that with the new FAFSA changes, he is encouraging students to apply for financial aid as early as possible, and said he hopes they will take advantage of the earlier deadline.
Sara Speller ’19 said that although many schools tried to provide financial aid estimates through net-price calculators on their website, these were often inaccurate and difficult to fill out. Speller said the new FAFSA would both alleviate the uncertainty of net-price calculators and give students with complex living situations enough time to properly fill out their FAFSA applications.
“The change allowing older tax returns also makes sense, since generally there is not a significant change in family income from one year to the next,” Speller said.
She also noted that the other parts of the financial aid application have the same data requirements as the updated FAFSA, which makes this a common-sense change, she said.
George Huynh ’18 said that many of his friends on financial aid have told him that because their family incomes do not fluctuate year to year, they were frustrated by the long wait period involved in submitting recent tax returns through FAFSA. Huynh said that since there were many other steps in the financial aid application process besides the FAFSA, the changes would take the pressure off current students, particularly low-income students, to complete their financial aid applications on time.
“For applicants going through the college process, these changes might allow students to acquire their financial aid packages earlier and qualify for more aid,” Hyunh said. “This in turn would give them more time to weigh their options and ease the stress of deciding which college to attend.”
DePaul University Vice President Jon Boeckenstedt wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education after the FAFSA policy was modified that the changed FAFSA would improve the college application process. Boeckenstedt said the old FAFSA schedule encouraged “a safari mentality” in students who applied to a large number of colleges, “hedging their bets in order to get the best price somewhere.”
Boeckenstedt projected that students will now be more likely to apply only to those schools that they know they can afford to attend.
But the updated FAFSA may also change college application numbers nationally, Boeckenstedt noted. Schools that are not need-blind may lose applicants who realize they cannot afford to attend, while more accurate financial aid information could allow some students to realize a school they were considering is more affordable than they expected, Boeckenstedt wrote in The Chronicle.
Last year, more than 31,000 students applied to Yale College.