New filing date, financial info changes for FAFSA

Photo of Financial aid office by Matt Moss

Photo of Financial aid office by Matt Moss

Emma Gray

Staff Writer

The FAFSA has seen two notable amendments to its application process that are in effect as of now: the ability to apply earlier than January and base financial information on tax returns from two years prior.

The window when students fill out the FAFSA, they used to be required to pull information from the previous year’s tax returns. However, thanks to what is being called the “prior-prior year” policy, students can pull financial information from 2015’s tax returns when applying for the 2017–2018 academic year, which for some could make the process that much easier.

The FAFSA is the channel students must go through to get most kinds of financial aid.

“Almost all the financial aid that we handle is awarded through the FAFSA,” says Parkland Financial Aid Advisor Julia Hawthorn.

This includes federal aid like the Pell grant, student loans, work study programs and state grants—such as the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, grant. Students also need the FAFSA to apply for most scholarships through Parkland and other places.

The Pell Grant is “free money,” as Hawthorn puts it, from the federal government to pay for educational expenses, which can be more than just tuition and books. The MAP grant is similar, except that it is from the Illinois state government.

It is important for students to notice the new filing dates and apply early, because many financial aid sources are first-come, first-serve.

Hawthorn says that if you apply late for the MAP grant, then “there is no way you can get it because there are too many other students in line ahead of you.”

Many scholarships are similar and some even have deadlines which applications must be submitted before. One thing that does make scholarships different is that they are not all need-based, meaning anyone can be awarded them no matter how much they or their parents earn.

It is important to start scholarship applications as soon as possible because they often have additional documents, like essays, that they require. Additional documents can also be required for the FAFSA.

Hawthorn says about one-in-three students are selected for verification by the government and must submit additional documents, which can slow down the process. If students apply early, they can “get that additional paper work out of the way” sooner so they can be awarded their financial aid as soon as possible.

When most students think of financial aid they think of the resources listed above, but Hawthorn, whose specialty is student loans, reminds students that there is more to it than that.

Student loans are available to pretty much everyone. Hawthorn says as long as you “graduated from high school, and you’re a U.S. citizen, and you meet all the basic requirements, every student who applies should be eligible…even if you made a million dollars last year.”

This makes student loans excellent for those who may not be eligible for many need-based forms of aid. The amounts awarded are based off what year in school a student is, but Hawthorn always reminds students that loans do not have to be accepted in their entirety. Adjustments can be made to make sure that every student is only borrowing as much as they need and not carrying any excess debt with them.

Another form of financial aid is the work study program. It is not as common as the other forms and is limited, but can be a great opportunity for students.

The financial aid money pays students’ paychecks, which students are guaranteed as long as they find a job, which they can do by working with the career center on campus. Possible jobs include, working in the college offices, the library, or Hawthorn’s personal favorite: “the student that dresses up as the Cobra at sports events.”

To be considered for work study, students simply need to indicate so on their FAFSA.

For more information, go to fafsa.gov or stop in the Financial Aid office on the second floor of the Student Union during their walk in hours: 9-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-4 p.m.