9 Ways College Advisors Can Make Early FAFSA Successful

February 8, 2016

By Elizabeth Morgan, Director of External Relations

October 1, the start to the 2017-18 FAFSA season, will be here before we know it, and planning ahead will help everyone involved in college admissions and financial aid make the transition work for students. What changes should college access advisors consider to their calendars to take advantage of early FAFSA?

  • Tell juniors this spring that the FAFSA will be available starting October 1. Consider giving them summer “homework” to set up their FAFSA IDs along with their parents doing so as well.
  • The office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has many free publications that you can use with students and parents to explain financial aid and the college application process. Choices range from bookmarks to flyers to brochures, and many are available in Spanish. To be ready for early FAFSA, place your publication order before heading out for summer vacation. 
  • Consider moving financial aid nights to August and September and beginning FAFSA completion assistance in October, rather than January. This change will inform students their federal aid eligibility before most college application deadlines, instead of after, and encourage students to apply to a wider range of institutions.
  • Students who file FAFSA early will also get their Student Aid Reports (SAR) early. Ask students to bring their SARs to you to discuss additional institutions they should consider applying to based on their predicted federal aid. 
  • Students who know their federal aid early will naturally want to know their institutional aid as well. You can help them understand, however, that institutional aid is typically conveyed only to admitted students, and we don’t expect that situation to change much with early FAFSA, especially for low-income students. You can help students estimate their institutional aid, however, by using the College Abacus net price calculator.
  • Consider moving up your FAFSA resubmission reminders for current college students to October. This shift will be especially important for students wanting to transfer or who live in first-come, first-served state aid states.
  • In January, or after college admissions deadlines have passed for your students, make sure that early FAFSA filers have updated their FAFSAs for all institutions to which they have applied. Because FAFSA can now be filed before admissions deadlines, many students will end up applying to colleges they did not list on their original FAFSA submission.
  • It is possible that, as a result of early FAFSA, some colleges will send acceptances and financial aid packages to students earlier than normal. Currently, we expect to see this change mostly among private institutions using merit awards to attract students with relatively high estimated family contributions (EFCs). We can’t be certain, however, that enrollment managers won’t see some advantage to making early admissions and aid awards to low-incomes students. But the May 1 “Decision Day” deadline for students to commit to an institution isn’t changing. If your students do receive any acceptances earlier than usual, advise them to wait until they hear from all their colleges so they can compare aid awards and make their best choice.
  • What to do with the time in February-March when you previously did your biggest FAFSA completion work? One possibility is additional “fit/match” support to help students understand the relative advantages of the schools to which they’ve applied. Of course there will still be students to help who didn’t complete FAFSA early, and this would also be a good window to assist college students with resubmission in many cases. You may also want to consider a greater push on private scholarship search and “college prep bootcamp” activities.

NCAN welcomes your thoughts about and additions to these timeline suggestions. We encourage you to discuss these recommendations in the Advisor Learning Community. Next week, we’ll share some thoughts about how to judge the success of early FAFSA. 


This blog post is Part 2 in a 3 part series.

Part 1: 6 Things College Advisors Should Know About Early FAFSA

 Part 3: 7 Ways to Measure the Success of Early FAFSA 




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