SPOKANE, Wash. - If you're sending a student to college next year, you need to know about big changes to the way students apply for financial aid. You can start submitting your student financial aid forms earlier than ever and reporting your financial information is now easier.
But these changes mean students who want to attend college need to get ready earlier. Some students aren't sure which school they're attending yet, but that doesn't mean it's too soon to start thinking about financial aid.
Like many students, Abigail Hagan is looking forward to the freedoms of college. The Shadle Park High School senior knows she wants to attend Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University or Gonzaga University. She also knows she'll need help paying for it.
"My family doesn't have the resources to pay for a lot of college. It's on me to find scholarships and financial aid," Abigail said.
This year, college hopefuls can get a jump start on FAFSA. Registration opened Oct. 1, a full three months ahead of the usual January 1 deadline.
"The purpose of the government changing the date is to give students more time to make a decision about where they want to go to school based on the financial packages that are presented to them," Melissa Pettey, Spokane Public Schools College and Career Coordinator, said.
For first time college students, that means you should put down all the schools you're applying to. The FAFSA application allows you to add up to ten. That way, your financial aid is ready to go when you decide which school you're going to.
The FAFSA asks for financial information reported on your federal tax return. Now, you can base your answers on your return from the previous year.
"They're calling it the "prior-prior." So it's actually the taxes that you've already filed and turned in last April, so it's your 2015 taxes that you're filing for your FAFSA report," Pettey said.
This new policy should make it easier to answer the questions and you won't have to go back and update your form next spring when you file taxes again.
These changes aim to make the whole process easier, but it can still be a tedious and sometimes confusing task.
"It's important to know that there's support out there to fill it out," Pettey said.
Some of that support is coming from the Spokane Public Schools District. They offer a number of workshops to help you complete your application.
The district partnered with all of the districts in the area, so regardless of where you go to school, you can attend an SPS event.