Applying for financial aid will soon be a much different process for millions of college students.
Every year, more than 13 million students apply for FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It's a financial assistance program that helps students pay for college through federal grants, loans or work study programs.
And beginning this year, students can apply for financial aid much sooner after an announcement from President Obama last year.
Typically students would apply for FAFSA in January. But the new changes will allow students to apply in October. Financial aid experts say opening up the application in October is intended to simplify the process.
"Instead of using the previous year's income information, they're going to be using prior, prior year, so for the 16/17 school year, students used their 2015 tax information, and that's the school year we're in right now, but starting for 2017/2018 when they apply they'll be able to use their 2015 tax information again," said Jerolyn Grandall, a financial aid manager at Western Technical College.
But Onalaska High School counselor John Horman says while the option to apply for FAFSA earlier may be beneficial for some high school students, it may complicate the process for others.
"With the financial aid application being available on October 1st, most students are still finishing up or even starting their college application process at that point, so it may for some students be an extra stressor and difficult but for other students who maybe are ahead of the game, we have a handful of students who have already applied and some students who have already been accepted to some schools," Horman said.
Overall, the transition is intended to make makes applying for FAFSA an easier, more effective experience.
"Really advantageous is when a student is applying, on the FAFSA form itself, there is an area where they can actually retrieve their IRS data, so when they fill out the 2017/2018 form come October 1st, on the actual application, they will be able to transfer their 2016 tax information right from the IRS."
Because families will be able to use tax information from two years earlier, their income may have drastically changed from one year to the next. In this case, colleges would work with families to make sure they are getting the aid they deserve.