New This Year in Financial Aid

Clothier Hall with fall leaves

The federal government made two key changes last year in how students could apply for federal need-based financial aid. These changes still apply to both prospective and current students who are applying for federal need-based aid for the 2018-19 academic year.

FAFSA Release Date

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be released on October 1, 2017.

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 for 2018-19 will be based on your 2016 federal tax returns.

How do these changes benefit me?

1. The October 1 release of the FAFSA (versus the historical January 1 release) 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.  This is the second year of the earlier release date.

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 October 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 2018-19 academic year, it means that you can submit both your FAFSA and CSS PROFILE applications as early as October 1, 2017, and you will submit these forms using 2016 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?  

The deadlines for prospective students will adjust to match the deadlines for applying for admission.  The deadline for current students. will be moved to March 1 for a late June notification.  For current, returning students who are able to complete their application by November, they can expect to receive their notification as early as late May. 

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

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