Earlier this week, we shared information about scholarships available to students with learning and other disabilities. But the number of such scholarships is very limited, and most offer just a small part of the expenses a student and her family will face in college. Of far more importance is the financial aid offered by individual colleges, and the way to obtain such aid is by filing a FAFSA application.
FAFSA - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid -- is used by virtually all colleges and universities to determine whether a student qualifies for financial aid and to calculate the amount of aid each student needs. In addition, the information on the FAFSA is sent to the higher education agency of your home state and those states in which the schools you are applying to are situated. This information is used by the states when they distribute state financial aid money.
Until a couple of years ago, filing a FAFSA form posed a dilemma for most families. The form had been available each January, but it required the tax information from the tax forms that weren't due until that April. In fact, many families not only had not prepared the forms the FAFSA sought, but had not yet received the underlying tax information that they would need to complete those forms.
This dilemma was resolved beginning with the 2016-17 school year. Now, FAFSA forms are available as of October 1st each year, and the tax information required is for the preceding tax year. So, for example, for students planning to begin college in the fall of 2019, the 2019-20 FAFSA became available on October 1, 2018 and is due by by June 30, 2020. Of course, you will want to file as soon as possible (if you have not already done so). In addition to needing to know what you will be receiving before you begin college, funding is always limited and students who file earliest will have access to a bigger piece of the funding pie.
What makes it possible to have this earlier deadline is that the tax information that must be submitted is now from the prior tax year. This means that applicants submitting on or after October 2018 should submit their family tax returns from 2017, which were generally due in April 2018 and should be readily available.
The best place to get all the information you need about the FAFSA is the official FAFSA website. You can also find helpful discussions of specific topics related to your FAFSA application on the U.S. Department of Education blogs.
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