Federal education officials this month opened the annual application process for students to apply for financial aid to help pay for their college education next school year.
Experts say filling out the form, known as the FAFSA, may present problems for some students whose financial situations have changed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Financial aid for the 2021-22 school year will be based on the student’s or the family’s 2019 income tax returns. The 2019 tax information may not reflect financial changes due to the pandemic, such as a job loss.
Students and their families can add updated information after sending the 2019 income tax returns that more accurately reflects their pandemic financial situation. It’s an option that many students do not know exists, said Veronica Leyva, a counselor at Collegewise, a company that helps students with the college admissions process.
U.S. Department of Education officials say students should contact the school they plan to attend to discuss how their financial situation has changed.
James Blackburn, head of financial aid at Georgia State University, said officials there can use documents that show an income reduction when determining how much financial help a student needs.
“This process is allowed under our Professional Judgement options,” Blackburn said via email. “We do have to support the change with documentation. In fact, our outreach efforts for the students will inquire on changes in income that might make the student more eligible for (federal Pell Grants).”
In addition to tax records, students and their families will need information such as money held in bank accounts and real estate holdings (not your primary residence), Social Security numbers and records of the student’s or parents' untaxed income, such as veterans benefits and interest income.
The federal government has an extended application period which concludes June 30, 2022. For students currently enrolled in college, the school must have the correct information by the last day of enrollment in the 2020-2021 school year.
Eric Stirgus joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2001. He is the newsroom's education editor. Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Eric is active in the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists and the Education Writers Association and enjoys mentoring aspiring journalists.