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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New Financial Aid Rules & SAT date Add STRESS to the Application Season

New Financial Aid Rules & SAT date are Adding Stress to the already Stressful Application Season

The Class of 2017 was the first to experience the new FAFSA schedule, with the federal financial aid application being available for the first time on October 1st rather than on January 1st. This change was touted to be beneficial to both families and the financial aid offices.  Another change was the use of the prior-prior-year’s (PPY) income information.  This alleviated the difficulties which arose when the IRS couldn’t process returns fast enough to get the information to the FAFSA processor and, in turn, to the financial aid offices, to ensure that financial aid awards would not need to be adjusted once the information was available.  By using 2015 tax return information in October, 2016, the IRS had sufficient time to process those returns.

Because of those changes, financial aid awards were expected to be sent out to applicants much earlier, allowing families more time to determine how to take care of their portion of the bill.  Financial aid officers had hoped to have more time to counsel parents and students, helping them find a satisfactory solution.  However, as of mid-February, students are not reporting receiving their awards yet.  Most are still awaiting the news.  Hopefully this is due to the adjustments needed in the financial aid offices and earlier awards will be forthcoming in subsequent years.  After all, many colleges and universities have long set their next school year’s tuition rates in January.  That process will need to shift to September or earlier in order to enable the financial aid office to create award letters as early as November.  Down the hall, admissions offices are already preparing longer marketing campaigns to entice admitted students to commit to their schools.  Families are often surprised to see the admissions letter contain information regarding submitting a deposit to commit to the school since the financial aid award hasn’t yet been received.  But this is standard practice.  Remember, colleges are businesses trying to attract customers/students. 

Now that the FAFSA can be filed any time after October 1, this year’s seniors found themselves extra busy during the early months of the application season.  Since many schools with early action and/or early decision admissions programs required the FAFSA to be filed by November 1, the very same date the admissions applications were due, students found themselves spinning like whirling dervishes trying to get everything submitted on time.  Finishing early applications due October 15th or November 1st along with getting the FAFSA filed and, in some cases, the PROFILE, was very difficult for many students and their families.  Parents were oftentimes caught off guard by the early financial aid application deadlines. 

Since the financial aid applications are not available until October 1, future student applicants will need to focus on completing their applications for admissions earlier… and on getting all the details taken care of.  Many applicants consider writing the application essays to be the most difficult part of the application process.  However, ensuring that transcripts and test scores are sent out, not to mention the recommendation letters, can make students lose their cool.  There are many, many details to keep track of.  Add in the schools which follow up the financial aid forms with additional requirements like sending in tax forms or other documentation and it’s no wonder families are stressed out. 

To top it off, the SAT has added an August sitting.  This has been long requested and is good news.  The Class of 2018 will be able to take the SAT August 26th and/or the ACT on September 9th, both in time for even the earliest of the application deadlines.  But that only packs their schedule even more tightly in the Fall.  Students will need to start the application process even sooner and be very well organized in order to fulfill all the requirements by their various deadlines.  Given how very few have developed those skills at age 17, the need for hiring a college consultant is becoming increasingly apparent.

To discuss your situation and how she can help you, schedule an initial consultation with college admissions and financial aid expert, Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS,  here. Her website is

1 comment:

  1. (I received this privately today and thought it would be helpful to other readers.)

    That article was great.. My son took the SAT’s and ACT in June 2016 and I kept telling my rising senior that he would do well to start thinking about his essays for college applications. Our reason? The Bling, Bling.

    He needed time to focus on applying to as many scholarships as possible throughout the school year without having to worry about college applications and know where he would be accepted before Christmas of his senior year. So while many of his classmates were still scrambling with applications in December and January, he had applied to all his colleges before Nov 1 and the FAFSA was completed 2 weeks prior... For the colleges that did not have rolling admissions, when the decision letters started coming in, they all indicated that they had an overwhelming amount of early applications this year. I guess it was the new FAFSA?

    There are positives for sure, my son was able to pump out essay after essay for outside scholarships (and still is) without worrying about being accepted to colleges. He was also getting merit scholarships from the colleges right away, and then some more when colleges were able to evaluate the FAFSA. He was confident and happy to know that if he didn’t get into the more selective colleges with a substantial financial package, he had a comfortable and decent fallback.

    I can’t stress enough the importance of doing very well in all classes and taking the most challenging courses - AP, Dual-Enrollment college classes. I know as homeschoolers this can be tricky. There doesn’t seem to be a uniform evaluation across colleges, so SAT and ACT scores need to be stellar for the more selective schools.

    As for me, its been a roller coaster! So different from my older daughter...

    It has been quite an educational experience being my son’s personal college counselor. He knows I have gone above and beyond any help he got from the counselors at school. I did a boat load of research, something he clearly had no time to do.

    Yes, many families would do well getting the services you offer. I had the time to do it.

    Again, thanks for the article, it confirmed a lot of what I found out.