New This Year in Financial Aid

Clothier Hall with fall leaves

The federal government has made two key changes this year in how students apply for federal need-based financial aid. These changes apply to both prospective and current students who are applying for federal need-based aid for the 2017–18 academic year.

FAFSA Release Date

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be released three months earlier than usual on Oct. 1, 2016.

Prior-Prior Year Tax Returns

The “early FAFSA,” as it has been referred to in the media, will use federal income tax information from the “prior-prior” year. What this means is that the FAFSA you file this year will be based on your 2015 federal tax returns.

How is this different from previous years?

In previous years, the FAFSA was released on Jan. 1, and students completed the form using the prior year’s tax information. For example, last year, the FAFSA was released on Jan. 1, 2016, and students submitted 2015 tax information for the form. This year, the FAFSA will be released on Oct. 1, 2016, and students will use 2015 tax information (tax information from the “prior-prior” year) to complete the form. If you applied for financial aid last year, you will use the same 2015 federal tax return this year that you used to complete the FAFSA last year.

How do these changes benefit me?

1. The new release date provides students with expanded access to the FAFSA earlier in their senior year of high school. Students now have more time to complete the financial aid application process.

2. The change to using “prior-prior” year tax information eliminates the time crunch of families needing to complete their most recent tax returns in a very short window of time in order to meet financial aid deadlines. In the past, families would be trying to submit their FAFSA form even before they had all the complete tax return information that was required.

3. The change to using “prior-prior” year tax information eliminates the need for some students to apply for financial aid using estimated income data. In the past, some families did not have all of their tax documentation in time to submit the FAFSA for February deadlines. This meant that some families needed to estimate income information when completing the FAFSA. This year’s change means that families will use finalized income data, which allows for a more accurate evaluation of financial need.

Are there similar changes to the CSS PROFILE application?

The College Board, which produces the CSS PROFILE financial aid application (submitted by students who wish to apply for Swarthmore Scholarship), adjusted its use as well from requiring prior base-year income tax information to using “prior-prior” base-year income tax information—specifically to align with the changes to the FAFSA. Note: The PROFILE can be submitted as early as Oct. 1, and that has remained the same.

What will my financial aid timeline be this year?

If you are a current or prospective student who will apply for financial aid for the 2017–18 academic year, it means that you can submit both your FAFSA and CSS PROFILE applications as early as Oct. 1, 2016, and you will submit these forms using 2015 federal tax return information, information that you have completed already and is more readily available. The notification dates for Swarthmore’s financial aid decisions have not changed.

Can I still use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to upload my information to the FAFSA?  

Yes, you may still use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool option to submit your federal tax return information directly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to your FAFSA.  

Will the deadlines for financial aid change due to these changes?  

No, the deadlines for financial aid will remain the same for prospective students and current students

Will the deadlines for admission applications change due to these changes?

No, the deadlines for admission applications will remain the same.