FAFSA updates to benefit new and prospective Northwestern students

Mariana Alfaro, Development Editor

Current and prospective Northwestern students will have an easier time filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid after modifications made by President Barack Obama’s administration this year.

The updated application now allows students and their families to apply for federal financial assistance starting in October rather than in January, and also lets them use information from previous tax years rather than waiting until the tax season to complete their applications.

“Learning about aid eligibility options much earlier in the college application and decision process will allow students and families to determine the true cost of attending college — taking available financial aid into account — and make more informed decisions,” the White House said in a statement last week.

Associate Provost for University Enrollment Michael Mills believes the changes to the FAFSA process will give students a better estimate of how much a college education will cost them, but said it is hard to tell what the overall effect of the new policies will be.

“I don’t know what the impact will be of having prior year income,” he said. “I think it will be pretty minimal but good for the President to do this because the financial aid community has been asking for something like this for a long time.”

Mills said he doesn’t believe the changes will make a big difference in the actual financial aid packages in most cases, but the earlier dates will allow students more flexibility when deciding on a school.

“The only way I could see it having a big impact if you’re looking at two years-worth of income data versus one, would be in a situation where there was a radical change one year to the next,” he said. “Certainly that happens to individual families from time to time, but I can’t imagine it having a big impact. If this had happened in 2007 or ‘08, when the financial meltdown took place, then I could see it having an enormous income, because you could have one year of fantastic impact, followed by two parents laid off all in a year.”

He also said the changes will force other financial aid services used by NU, like the College Board financial aid profile, to change.

Amanda Walsh, Communication senior and president of NU’s Quest Scholar Network, said the FAFSA changes will likely affect new or prospective students more than current students, since those already enrolled in the university know what to expect of their financial aid package and how to file the paperwork needed.

“Students who are applying for financial aid for the first time … are going to have a much easier time navigating the FAFSA because they will have longer to do it,” she said. “They will be able to get more help in the process.”

She said the changes could benefit students who might be unaware of their financial aid eligibility.

“There are so many students who don’t even apply for financial aid that are eligible for financial aid,” she said. “Now that there’s more time to fill out the FAFSA, new students will be more likely to apply for financial aid because it will be easier.”

SESP junior Matt Herndon, Associated Student Government’s Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, said he was pleasantly surprised by the White House’s announcement. Although he believes financial aid still presents issues for students, he said the changes can offer new alternatives to current and prospective students.

He said being able to use taxes other than the most recent year’s makes it easier and more accurate for families to guess what their financial aid package will look like.

“It will help people get a jump on the application, especially people who are like ‘Can I stay at Northwestern another year? Will I be able to afford it with the federal aid I’m getting?’, or people who are trying to go to Northwestern but aren’t sure if they will be able to afford it,” he said. “I think that the timing works better.”

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