September was a big month for college admissions and financial aid processes with changes to the FAFSA and the creation of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. While there are certainly some unanswered questions and concerns about the implications of these major announcements, the former college counselor in me is so excited for potential positives for all students.
Both of these changes indicate great strides toward improved access and affordability for college students and their families, especially for those who don’t have the financial resources necessary to disregard college cost, attend a high school that can afford a subscription to an online resource, participate in a program that can provide one-on-one guidance, or pay for personalized insights—which in my experience is most people.
Let’s consider the FAFSA changes first. Starting in the 2016-17 application season (students looking for aid for the 2017-18 school year), the federal government will consider financial information from two years earlier instead of just the previous year. Using prior-prior year (PPY) data gives students and families some distinct advantages:

  • PPY taxes will be already be completed when the FAFSA opens, which means that families can potentially give a more accurate representation of their financial status. Right now, submitting the FAFSA by a college’s priority deadline often requires estimates and incomplete tax information.
  • Using PPY data means that the financial aid timeline can be moved to more closely align with the admissions timeline. Students will be able to complete the FAFSA in October instead of in January.
  • Perhaps the biggest improvement that students and families will experience is having an idea about whether or not they can afford a school BEFORE applying—a change that is long overdue. By getting a better understanding of their financial eligibility before admissions deadlines, students and families will be able to assess which schools are likely to be affordable instead of playing a waiting game to see if a school’s aid package will be sufficient well after deadlines close.

And if that wasn’t exciting enough, 80 well-known schools have joined together in an effort to revamp the admissions application process. Instead of going the route of the Common App and trying to standardized all applications, the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success is seeking to offer a level of individualization for students in their college search and application process. The free platform, slated to go live in January 2016, could drastically changed what the college application process looks like:

  • The platform will give students a chance to start the college process early. Ninth graders will be able to consider how their high school experience can shape their college applications, and think deeply about connecting their academic and extracurricular to the process.
  • Not all students have regular access to their guidance counselors or college counselors or have parents who can provide insights to help them navigate their applications, and while this platform won’t be a substitute for an adviser, it aims to help level the playing field a bit.
  • The platform includes an affordability component for institutions, which means that schools that leave major financial gaps that prevent admitted students from attending will not be allowed to participate.

Again, there are certainly questions and concerns that need to be addressed with both of these major changes, particularly for institutions. However, they both seem to offer a leg up on college access and affordability to families and students who need it most, which is a great shake up in my book.