9/30/2016 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to help college bound Rhode Islanders access much-needed financial aid, U.S. Senator Jack Reed is urging high school seniors and their families to get started filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), on October 1 — three months ahead of the traditional January 1 date.  That is because a new federal rule allows students planning to attend college in the fall of 2017 to start applying for state and federal financial aid beginning tomorrow, October 1.

The FAFSA is used to help determine a family’s expected annual contribution to college expenses and eligibility for need-based federal aid, such as Pell grants. It is also the form Rhode Island residents complete to determine eligibility for Rhode Island Promise Scholarship, a program that is available to Rhode Island residents attending colleges or universities in Rhode Island.

Last year, the Obama Administration announced that beginning this fall families could submit their FAFSA forms in October, so that colleges can get financial aid award offers into the hands of students sooner, enabling students to make more informed decisions about their future and how to finance their education.  In the past, many high school students had to decide what college they would enroll in before knowing how much financial aid they would actually receive.

“If you are planning to attend college next year, start your homework now by filling out the FAFSA.  Getting an early start can literally pay off.  Filing early helps students get a more complete picture of their eligibility for federal, state, and school financial aid and their college costs,” said Senator Reed

One of the reasons Reed is urging Rhode Islanders to apply earlier is because too many students limit their college applications and miss out on aid because financial aid is awarded well after the application process.  Too many students, fail to apply for aid at all.  Last year, students in Rhode Island left over $6.7 million in federal Pell Grant money unclaimed in the 2014-15 academic year, according to a study released by the personal finance website Nerd Wallet.  The report found that nearly 4,000 of Rhode Island’s high school graduates (approximately 36 percent) did not complete the FAFSA form in 2014.  Of those, 1,897 likely would have qualified for a Pell grant, which is a free form of federal aid based on income that students are not required to repay.  The report shows that on average, students in Rhode Island who completed the application and got federal Pell grants for the 2014-15 academic year were awarded about $3,570 each.

“I have long advocated for simplifying the FAFSA, and this year, critical improvements have been made to help busy families save time, and to ensure that eligible students are actually getting the assistance they need,” continued Reed, who authored a key provision in the Higher Education Opportunity Act to help simplify and streamline the FAFSA and make it easier for students and their families to complete. 

The new FAFSA includes online tools that enable families to import their tax return information right into the application.  And this year, families can use their tax information from 2015, instead of having to wait for their 2016 returns.

“If you're not ready to fill out the FAFSA today, that is okay.  October 1st is the kick-off, not the deadline.  But again, I urge Rhode Islanders not to delay.  Filling out the FAFSA can increase your odds of obtaining need-based aid.  And it will provide you with critical information about your financial aid so you can make informed decisions as you consider paying for college,” concluded Reed.  “And fortunately, in Rhode Island, there is plenty of help to get you through the process. Talk to your school counselor, take advantage of the services offered by the College Planning Center, and go to FAFSA.ED.GOV to get your questions answered.”

There is no cost to file the FAFSA form on the federal website.

Rhode Islanders in need of assistance may also get free assistance from the RI Student Loan Authority: https://www.risla.com/college-planning-center