Students looking to attend school and apply for financial aid will have two new things to consider when completing their FAFSA forms, due to changes to the financial aid process.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the beginning point for all students looking to get financial help for school, whether that be through student loans, grant money, or even school-based scholarships. This year the federal government made two major changes to the process; the first is that students can apply for financial aid by completing the FAFSA earlier, in October of the previous year. Historically, students had to wait until January of the year they planned to attend school; the new change means students can get their financial aid awards earlier—and possibly help narrow down school choices earlier as well.

The changes take effect for the 2017-2018 school season, which means that students planning to attend college in spring of 2017 were still on the old January schedule. Students looking to attend from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, however, could have started filling out their financial aid paperwork in October of 2016. The federal student aid blog has a graphic explaining how the changes are rolling out, and what students can expect.

Along with completing the FAFSA form, students had to provide their last year’s tax return to show their financial situation (or their parents’).  Under the new rules, students or parents will now have to provide two years of tax returns, which in many cases can change the total financial picture used to decide on amounts awarded.

Many officials believe that the new two-year regulation will result in more aid for students, but the students themselves are not so sure, especially at Texas State. Some feel that if they have been on their own for the last year—which under the old rules would net them greater amounts of aid—they should not have to submit their parents’ information at all. Others worry that the new rules will result in lower amounts of financial aid awarded, and makes it more difficult for students to apply for and get student loans.

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Not all students are against the new changes. Some feel that the earlier application opening means that students who are truly motivated will stand out by getting their paperwork finished right away, thereby showing themselves to be more “deserving.” Many schools are sending out word of these changes, so students can take advantage of the new deadlines.

The lengthened application window should help students, even with the additional application requirements. It may also assist colleges during the period from March-May, when most financial aid packages are historically awarded and acceptance letters are sent. With a longer process window, colleges are better able to assist students with the process, and possibly offer better, more individualized need-based scholarships.

In light of the changes, many schools are also moving their deadlines to apply for aid—some to a month earlier. Students are advised to double-check the deadlines for their school of choice, even if they are returning students. University of Florida, for instance, has changed their deadline to the “earliest it’s been in 30 years,” according to the director of financial aid.