It’s especially important to apply early for financial aid this year, college experts say, because many families have suffered economically during the coronavirus pandemic and may have to take extra steps to qualify for maximum help.
That means families should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — the form known as FAFSA — as soon as they can. The form is a major gateway for financial help from the federal government, as well as from many states and colleges. The FAFSA for the 2021-22 academic year is available starting Thursday.
Completing the form early is always a good idea in order to meet varying deadlines for scholarships. But this year, college students or prospective applicants who have been affected by the pandemic may need to submit extra documents to their colleges.
Here’s why: The upcoming FAFSA will use financial information from the 2019 tax year to determine a family’s expected out-of-pocket payment for college. (Families often complain that the form’s calculations overstate their ability to pay.) But Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Attainment Network, a nonprofit advocacy group, said many students and families had been affected by the health crisis this year, suffering job losses, catastrophic medical bills and even deaths. Tax returns filed this year won’t accurately reflect a student’s current financial picture, diminishing his or her eligibility for need-based grants and scholarships.
“Families may have had significant change in circumstances,” Ms. Cook said. “It means many students have had a loss of income.”
If that’s the case, students must still use the required, older tax information to complete