October 18, 2016 | 4 p.m.
By Suzanne McInroy, director of communications
Federal financial aid changes could affect the timeline for Bethel families applying for financial aid for the 2017-18 academic year. Families can now start filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) starting October 1, rather than January 1 as in previous years. In addition, families are now required to use their tax information from two years prior when filling out the FAFSA.
This means that families will use the federal income tax return due April 15, 2016, to submit their 2017-18 FAFSA. It also means that few families will need to submit their FAFSA using estimated income and they will be able to download their income data directly from the IRS onto their FAFSA, which reduces the chance of errors and streamlines the process, explains Jeff Olson, director of financial aid.
The goal of the change was to give families a more accurate financial aid picture to help them make a college decision. However, colleges can still choose when to award financial aid packages. “Senior leaders at Bethel embraced the early FAFSA as an opportunity to change our business practices to better meet the needs of prospective students,” says Olson. “The Board of Trustees will be asked to set 2017-18 College of Arts & Sciences tuition, room, and board costs in October 2016, rather than waiting until February 2017. This allows the university to develop budgets six months earlier and begin sending out complete financial aid packages in early December, three months earlier than normal.”
At Bethel, prospective students for fall 2017 will begin to receive their financial aid award letters in early December. However, the timeline will remain the same for returning students, who will receive their award letters in the spring. “Keep in mind, although Bethel will begin awarding incoming students in December, our priority application deadline of April 15 is unchanged,” says Olson. “In other words, the quality of the financial aid package will be the same whether a student submits a FAFSA on October 15 or April 15. Early FAFSA filers will simply have more time to solidify their payment options.”
To better match the new FAFSA timeline, federal and state governments will also adjust the Pell Grant and Minnesota State Grant schedules. The U.S. Department of Education announced last month that they will post the 2017-18 Pell Grants Payment and Disbursement Schedules sometime this month. The State of Minnesota will publish mandatory “estimated” 2017-18 Minnesota State Grant parameters on November 1, which is more than three months earlier than when they previously published the information.
If you have questions or would like more information about these changes, please contact a Bethel financial aid counselor.