Parents of college students and high school seniors headed that way should be busy filling out financial aid paperwork — if they haven’t already.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as the FAFSA) determines eligibility for all financial aid, including Illinois’ grants for lower-income students.
The old FAFSA application period opened on Jan. 1, and you couldn't complete the form until you'd filed your taxes. But as of last year, the federal government decided to accept “prior prior” year’s taxes,
which means families can use their 2016 tax returns to file as early as Oct. 1.
Carolyn Schloemann, financial aid director at the University of Illinois Springfield, says some folks take that start date very seriously.
"High school guidance counselors, I was told last week, some of them set up some FAFSA completion workshops at midnight,” she says. “How many of those happened across the state I can't tell you, but I know that there are a few schools, especially up in the Chicagoland area, that did that."
When Illinois receives enough applications to exhaust its Monetary Award Program or MAP grant funding, that window will close. Schloemann says the state typically provides no more than 24-hours advance warning. That’s why it’s crucial that eligible families apply as soon as possible.
"The earlier the students complete their FAFSA application, the more likely they will be to be considered for the State of Illinois MAP grant for next academic year," Schloemann says.