Jan 25, 2016

2016 FAFSA deadlines are right around the corner

Georgetown's priority FAFSA deadline is February 1

If you applied early and were hoping for priority financial aid consideration at Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, or Yale, you needed to submit the CSS PROFILE (and accompanying documentation) by November 1. Penn (November 2), Brown (November 3) and Columbia (November 15) were also looking for PROFILEs shortly after early applications were due.

And with logic that only a financial aid officer could explain, the Ivies follow-up with an additional series of FAFSA deadlines for all applicants—early and regular—ranging from February 15 (Cornell) to April 15 (Penn and Princeton). Note that not all of the FAFSA deadlines coincide with or seem to bear much relationship to PROFILE deadlines for regular decision applicants. These range from February 1 (Dartmouth and Penn) to May 10 (Yale).  Clearly, the system is sending a confusing set of mixed messages.

The good news is that most every college and university in the U.S. has a clearly posted priority financial aid deadline by which the FAFSA should be filed for students to have the best possible chance of receiving both institutional and federal aid.

Because most (not all) of these deadlines are either on or before March 1st, students and their parents must act early in the New Year—often before tax returns are filed with the federal government—to ensure priority consideration for financial aid.
And it's important to try to meet these deadlines.  For example, the Howard University website specifically states, “If you apply for Financial Aid by the priority deadline, you may qualify for a greater amount of gift assistance.”  Other schools use timely filing of financial aid documents as a sign of “demonstrated interest.”

To underscore the importance of submitting the FAFSA sooner rather than later, even if it means estimating income and taxes to be paid, the following is a list of local priority financial aid deadlines:
You can research individual deadlines by going to a college or university website and entering “FAFSA” or “FAFSA deadline” in the search function. Only the most poorly constructed websites will fail to pop up a link to either an admissions or a financial aid web page clearly stating the priority deadline by which you should file your FAFSA and or CSS PROFILE. Some will even give you a few good reasons why this is so important.

And just to prove the point about how varied and early FAFSA deadlines can be, here are a few more:

Many states also have FAFSA deadlines that are entirely separate from but usually after institutional dates. A handy tool for researching individual state deadlines is provided on the FAFSA website. Locally, the State of Maryland has posted March 1st as its deadline, and the District of Columbia uses April 1. Virginia is noncommittal and refers applicants to individual financial aid administrators (Hint: you may notice a pattern of March 1st as a deadline for the Virginia public colleges and universities listed above).

Filing the FAFSA by the priority deadlines and promptly responding to any requests for additional documentation helps ensure you’ll receive your financial aid letters at about the same time you receive admissions decisions.   

And if a student is selected for verification, the process can be significantly delayed.  Catholic University advises that, “Students selected for verification, either by the Department of Education (DOE) or by Catholic University (CUA) will not be packaged until we receive all requested required documentation and have completed the verification review process. Based on the time of year, the verification review process can take up to 20 business days from the time the Office of Student Financial Assistance receives all requested required documents.”

Note that it takes the FAFSA processor 1 to 2 weeks to get information to individual colleges and universities—if the FAFSA is filed electronically. If you use the paper application, the turnaround can take from 3 to 4 weeks. And delays could be longer if your application is randomly selected for a more in depth review.

Remember you do NOT have to be admitted to a college or university before submitting your FAFSA. You CAN file using last year’s tax return to estimate income and taxes—provided you remember to amend. If you have any questions or need additional assistance, contact the FAFSA on the Web Consumer Service either online or by calling 1-800-433-3243 (1-800-4-FED-AID).

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