fafsa_ccisBy Maria Haynie

New changes could make securing financial aid easier for all American college students. Each year, college students nationwide are required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for federal grants, loans, work-study programs and other financial aid. Although that annual filing is still necessary, the Department of Education has made two big changes that could simplify that process. Here’s what you need to know:

More time

This year, you’ll be able to submit your FAFSA earlier than ever. Now, students are able to file their FAFSA paperwork as early as October 1, 2016 instead of January 1, 2017. This gives students much more time to get the paperwork completed and go through any additional verification processes that may be required.

This also puts students in a great position to submit early. Some awards disperse on a first-come, first-served basis. The final FAFSA deadline is June 30, 2017.

Less guesswork

No matter when you file your FAFSA between October 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, you’ll be able to use your 2015 tax information. Previously, students filed based on tax information they might not have had in hand yet, causing confusion, guesswork and, for some, tedious readjustment after tax day.

How can I get help filing my FAFSA?

Columbia College is hosting a FAFSA Frenzy, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Education, on October 27 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Atkins-Holman Student Commons. You can also schedule an appointment with the Financial Aid office to get assistance in person, over the phone or via Skype.