Attention Students: Don’t Get Hamstrung by the FAFSA

NASFAA Checklists Can Help Streamline the Process of Applying for Student Aid So Students Don’t Miss Out on Crucial Financial Aid Dollars

September 26, 2017 — Fall is upon us and that doesn’t just mean cooler temperatures and pumpkin spice everything. It also means that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, will be available to students and families in less than one week. On October 1, the FAFSA for the 2018-19 academic year will become available—and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) has resources to ensure the application process goes as smoothly as can be.

As a result of executive action taken in 2015 by former President Barack Obama, the FAFSA now becomes available in October rather than in January of the following year. As with last year, students and parents will use prior-prior year income data to complete the application. This means there’s no need to wait until your tax returns from the 2017 year are finalized before applying. Because the 2018-19 FAFSA asks for 2016 income information, students can get a jump on deciding what school might be a good fit for them by filing the FAFSA next week, as soon as it becomes available. 

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which the Department of Education and the IRS took offline last year citing data-security concerns, is expected to be back up and running on October 1 for those who wish to use it. The DRT streamlines FAFSA-completion by importing information directly from tax returns, thereby reducing the risk of manual-entry errors. Using the tool can also save students and their families time on the back end if they are selected for verification, since the information provided by the DRT has already been verified by the IRS.

Still, students might find themselves struggling to fill out the form, especially if they have never done so before. To help make the process as seamless as possible, NASFAA has created:

  • a handy checklist of information and forms students and parents will want to have on-hand to help simplify the process of filling out the 2018-19 FAFSA; and

  • a list of the most common FAFSA errors so parents and students can be on the lookout for mistakes that could delay their application and limit the amount of aid they might be eligible to receive.

“The earlier availability of the FAFSA coupled with the collection of prior-prior year income data, and the reintroduction of the Data Retrieval Tool means students and parents have more time to make informed decisions,” NASFAA President Justin Draeger said. “We encourage families to apply for financial aid as early as possible—even if they don’t think they will qualify—and to reach out to financial aid professionals at their prospective schools with any questions about the process of applying for financial aid or options for paying for college.”

Keep in mind that it’s never a mistake to fill out the FAFSA. The application is free, and serves as the gateway to federal financial aid as well as some state and institutional aid. Students and parents with questions can always reach out to their school’s financial aid office for assistance.

To request an interview with a NASFAA spokesperson about what students and parents should know before filing the FAFSA, please email or call (202) 785-6959.


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every ten undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit

Publication Date: 9/26/2017

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