“Opportunity” of Early FAFSA Filing

PPY Blog HeaderBy Candi Frazier, Senior Associate Director at West Virginia University

Since the fall 2015 announcement of the new, Early FAFSA, some institutions have realized the opportunity that it presents to engage with students earlier and more frequently as they navigate toward matriculation.

West Virginia University (WVU) is one such institution that began laying the necessary groundwork for a successful implementation of Early FAFSA. “We knew that this opportunity would mean changing internal timelines that have been in existence for a very long time,” said Sandra Oerly-Bennett, assistant vice president of student financial support and services at WVU. “Our goal was to make sure that the university community understood the opportunity that this change presented and that it would take the entire campus, not just the financial aid office. It’s not only about presenting the best package earlier but continuing to build the relationship over a longer period of time,” she added.

After preliminary discussions with administration and state aid officials, it was determined that the best way to approach this change/opportunity was to develop an ideal freshman timeline. This helped identify all of the constituents that needed to be a part of detailed discussions as well as outlined the shift in deadlines and processes through the eyes of the prospective student.

The timeline, although simplistic, requires the collaboration of many university departments to be successful from information technology to housing to the Board of Governors.

Ideal Timeline for First-Time, First-Year Student Admitted for Fall 2017


  • Outreach to high school counselors and rising seniors


  • High school junior communication plan begins
  • Admit letters and packet materials finalized


  • Application for admissions becomes available
  • Software release for financial aid is available - ready for production by September
  • Commitment on institutional funding is finalized


  • Begin processing admissions applications and sending admit letters


  • Housing application is available (for any student who has paid an academic deposit)
  • Financial aid testing and development must be ready for production, including prep for federal verification
  • New communication plan generated from financial aid


  • FAFSA is available beginning on the first of the month
  • Open residence hall room selection for students who have paid housing deposit
  • Estimated tuition and fees, college fees and room and meal costs are established
  • Hold College Goal Sunday event and tie it to the statewide college admission and exploration week
  • Estimate institutional endowment funds


  • Begin sending financial aid award letters


  • Fall class schedule finalized


  • Institutional scholarships deadline - priority consideration (remains unchanged for now)
  • Fee assessment built in software system to generate estimated bill
  • Payment plans are established


  • FAFSA priority award date (remains unchanged for now)
  • Early bird orientation and registration (pre-built schedule)
  • Estimated bills are mailed to students who attend orientation
  • Payment plans are available


  • Early bird orientation and registration (pre-built schedule)
  • Estimated bills are mailed to students who attend orientation


  • Early bird orientation and registration (pre-built schedule)
  • Estimated bills are mailed to students who attend orientation


  • New Student Orientation
  • Estimated bills are mailed to students who attend orientation


  • Actual bills mailed


  • Final New Student Orientation
  • Classes start

The sample timeline is fluid and is intended to adapt to individual institutional needs or departmental commitments. There are three key elements to keep in mind when developing a timeline:

  1. Engage the entire university community in the process. Engagement helps departments to understand the benefits of Early FAFSA to their departments and their role in successful implementation.
  2. Adapt the suggested timeline based on the capabilities of the departments. Not all departments can have a successful implementation in year one. The timeline must be flexible to account for realistic limitations.
  3. Re-assess as necessary to address aforementioned limitations and continuous improvement. Ensure that the timeline remains a “living” document, with room for changes, adjustments and alterations.

Schools can also seek assistance in developing a timeline by utilizing NASFAA’s Create a Financial Aid Timeline tool. Just complete the applicable form fields to create a financial aid timeline for your institution. You will get an email with your timeline link when you complete the form, and the timeline can be embedded in websites and blogs, shared via social media, and emailed to students and other audiences. 


Publication Date: 5/16/2016

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