NASFAA Survey: Students Are Learning Their Financial Aid Eligibility Sooner, Thanks to Early FAFSA

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

New students are increasingly receiving their financial aid offers earlier in the award year, helping more students know up front exactly how much they will be receiving before making a decision about where to enroll.

A new survey of NASFAA member institutions found that 35% of respondents said they sent their first aid offers to first-time undergraduate students before January.

Nearly half of institutions surveyed said they did or will send their first 2022-23 award year aid offers to first-time undergraduate students before February. By the end of February, 60% of respondents said they will have sent first-time undergraduates a financial aid offer. 

The use of prior-prior year (PPY) income data for the purposes of completing the FAFSA was first implemented for the 2017-18 aid year, and together with the ability to submit the FAFSA as early as October has given students and families an earlier and more accurate idea of their anticipated financial aid and college costs.

The change — first announced by former President Barack Obama via executive action in 2015 — allowed more families to utilize the existing ability to import tax information directly from the IRS onto the FAFSA form, meaning they spend less time gathering paperwork and reducing the potential for errors.

Additionally, the change was hailed as a significant win that reduced some of the administrative burden for financial aid offices and set the groundwork for additional FAFSA simplification measures in the future.

Since the change, several institutions have adjusted their financial aid offer schedules, as reflected in NASFAA’s new survey data.

“The benefits of Early FAFSA are coming to fruition, as students are able to apply for financial aid, and institutions are able to extend their aid offers sooner,” NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger said in a press release announcing the survey. “Knowing months sooner what to expect financially also levels the playing field for lower income students who might otherwise be left scrambling to make decisions on college attendance at the last minute. We still need Congress and the Department of Education to do their part, by completing federal appropriations on time and publishing final federal student aid amounts by November 1.”

As more states are encouraging their high school students to submit the FAFSA earlier in the year, aid offices can help in this effort by sending out aid offers earlier as well.

While there are a variety of formats in which aid offers are sent, survey respondents overwhelmingly used two forms for new students: either a physical letter or an email notifying students of the availability of the aid offer on the institution’s portal. For returning students, 64% of aid offices said they use an email directing students to the institution’s portal. 

An attachment on an email sent directly to the aid recipient or an email directing them to the institution’s portal accounted for 50% of the notifications used by institutions for first-time students. 

“As lawmakers consider the best way to notify students of their financial aid eligibility, we should remember that most schools are leveraging technology to deliver vital information to students and families,” Draeger added. “Standardizing aid offers must leave enough flexibility for schools to deliver information that will be the most impactful to different student demographics.” 


Publication Date: 2/14/2022

David S | 2/14/2022 12:46:17 PM

Next step is to make the FAFSA one-time only (with an optional update/renewal form that a student/family could submit in the event of job loss, etc) so we can give students and families what they really need, an award offer for the duration of the degree program. Imagine applying for a mortgage and only learning what your monthly payments will be for the first year and being asked to take a leap of faith that "if your financial circumstances don't change, your cost won't either," only to learn a year later that what the you and the lender consider changes in financial circumstances do not align at all.

No other major expense - and by now buying a house is really the only thing comparable, unless your taste in cars includes Rolls Royces and Ferraris - is financed in a way that only allows you to plan out a year at a time and be subject to changes based on things beyond your control, such as changes in appropriations at the state and federal level, quirks in the eligibility formula that are completely non-intuitive to those who aren't financial aid professionals, and above all, annual increases in tuition. It's time for real transparency in college pricing, otherwise all of the perceptions we keep fighting against that college is unaffordable and/or not worth it and that colleges are just greedy elitists hoarding money will just keep increasing in volume.

Joseph K | 2/14/2022 11:10:18 AM

T-R-U-T-H --->"We still need Congress and the Department of Education to do their part, by completing federal appropriations on time and publishing final federal student aid amounts by November 1.” It would be great to be able to provide accurate final awards to each incoming student instead of initial estimates and then re-working them.

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