A big change is happening for students going to college. FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is moving up the date you can apply to Oct. 1.
That's three months earlier than before and Consumer Reports says it is important to get your application in as soon as possible.
Jeralyn Escamilla is a high school senior with big dreams. But she'll need loans to pay for college.
"I want to pursue a career in medicine, and those careers tend to be a little bit more than expensive," Escamilla said.
Being able to apply for financial aid earlier will help Escamilla and her family make more informed decisions about college affordability.
Here's how it works: Submit the FAFSA form. You'll get a Student Aid Report that tells you what federal aid you qualify for, like Pell grants or work study.
Then enter that information into the net price calculator on any college's website or on CollegeAbacus.org to get a good idea of what a college will cost you before you apply.
It's important to apply for FAFSA as soon after the Oct. 1 launch as possible.
"Many state, college and scholarship programs need your FAFSA to determine how much aid you're going to get and often it's on a first come first serve basis," said Donna Rosato, Money Editor, Consumer Reports.
Be aware if you're heading to college in 2017, your aid package will be based on your family's 2015 taxes. You can use the IRS data-retrieval tool on the FAFSA form to directly import your tax information.
"Don't worry if you don't know all the schools you want to apply to. List all the colleges you are considering to hold your place in line for financial aid. You can always add more schools later on," Rosato said.
Escamilla plans to apply for FAFSA as soon as she can.
"So, the sooner I get in my paperwork the faster I get results for money and I can make a college choice," Escamilla said.
Remember, you must reapply for FAFSA every year. So the new application date also means getting earlier notice if your aid package changes.
Consumer Reports also advises to be very mindful when filling out all the forms. Missed signatures, or incorrect information can slow down the process and cost you thousands of dollars in aid.
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Consumer Reports: Applying for college aid early