I remember the days – not that long ago, really – when the pressure was on to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That’s the FAFSA.

It was and still is important to fill out and file the FAFSA because the FAFSA is the entry point for you or your children to qualify for just about any financial aid just about any U.S. college or university will grant. One of the challenges to the FAFSA, however, was the time frame – the application window – in which to file it. And the earlier filed, the better because many colleges and universities grant aid on a first-come, first-served basis.

Old FAFSA window: Jan. 1

The FAFSA window opened Jan. 1 every year, and you needed your tax information from the previous year, among other documents and materials. Well, for most people, the W-2 income form wasn’t even available until the end of January. And many colleges and universities had deadlines as early as March 1 to file. What a scramble it could be for the independent students or parents with dependents to complete their tax return and fill out the FAFSA.

Not so much anymore.

New FAFSA window: Oct. 1

FAFSA is opening the window earlier, and the income information can come from already filed tax returns.

Back in 2015, President Obama announced that beginning with the 2017-18 aid year, the FAFSA window would open Oct. 1 instead of Jan. 1.

The tax information can come from the “prior prior” year. Yes yes – the prior prior year. That means, for example, that for the 2017-18 FAFSA, 2015 tax returns can be used.

Get help with FAFSA Thursdays and College Goal Sunday

The Boulder County and Westminster campuses will have FAFSA Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 6, 13, and 20, and Nov. 3 and 10. Students and their families are welcome to visit the Financial Aid offices with 2015 tax information and W2s for assistance in completing the 2017-2018 FAFSA.

At the Larimer Campus, find assistance at the Education Opportunity Center, or call (970) 204-8376 for an appointment with a Financial Aid advisor.

And not only has the FAFSA window opened earlier, College Goal Sunday also is earlier. Formerly in February, College Goal Sunday will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at each campus. This is a walk-in event for families or students who still have questions or haven’t completed their 2017-2018 FAFSA. Bring 2015 tax information and W2s.

FAFSA change helps students

This change should benefit students.

For one thing, it puts the FAFSA timeline in sync with the application timeline for four-year colleges and universities. High school seniors should be submitting their admissions applications in fall 2016 to hear in spring 2017 about where they might enroll in fall 2017. Most community colleges, Front Range included, have rolling admissions deadlines. That’s not a free pass to apply late, however, because we find that the most successful students are ones who apply early and register early.

Another benefit is that students and parents have real tax information from previously filed returns that can automatically be pulled into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval System.

But there also can be some flexibility. Say you reported a large amount of income in 2015 but your current income is much different from 2015. Financial aid professionals have an additional review process to re-evaluate your current income to take into consideration any changes.

Bottom line on FAFSA

The real benefit of FAFSA is unchanged: File a FAFSA for any chance at financial aid. Starting this year, you have an extended window of opportunity.

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