Early Action and FAFSA

The deadline for Harvard Early Action application is Nov. 1. Does this mean we need to submit FAFSA by that deadline, as well, or can we submit it later?

See: https://college.harvard.edu/financial-aid/applying-aid/prospective-students

That means your family has two options:

SCENARIO 1: If your child is accepted in the SCEA round – and you have completed all the necessary paperwork by the November 1st deadline and November 11th deadline – your family will receive an ESTIMATED award with the SCEA acceptance package. The award is ESTIMATED because your family must update the FAFSA with the actual information from your 2016 tax returns. In addition, your family must also update the CSS Profile with actual information and submit your 2016 tax returns through the IDOC service.

SCENARIO 2: If your child is accepted in the SCEA round – and you have missed the November 1st deadline or the November 11th deadline, or just don’t bother to do it – that’s okay! Your family will just not receive an estimated award with your SCEA acceptance package – which is fine. That means that your family has until the March 1st deadline to complete the FAFSA, CSS Profile and submit your 2016 tax returns through the IDOC service. Your child will receive their financial award letter when Harvard mails out their RD acceptances and your family will have until May 1st to make their decision.

IMHO: While receiving an estimated award with an SCEA acceptance package is helpful, your family can basically get the same idea of what Harvard would offer by going to their Net Price Calculator. As your family must update the information anyway with actual figures, it’s far easier to go thorough the process once than twice. Having gone through this with my kids, I would personally opt for Scenario 2! See: https://college.harvard.edu/financial-aid/net-price-calculator.

@gibby - Wow, this is most helpful! No brainer that we go with the Scenario 2, then. Thanks, gibby, much appreciate your help!

I don’t think this is correct. Starting with this year’s applications, both Fafsa and CSS are starting the PPY (prior-prior-year) system. Financial aid will be based on 2015 tax returns and current assets. Going forward, financial aid will always be based on the income tax return from the calendar year two years prior to college start year (so, for college start year 2017, it is based on tax year 2015).

@brantly: Thanks for the correction. I had not realized that with the 2016-2017 Admissions cycle, FAFSA and CSS were now operating on the prior-prior system, which makes completing information in the SCEA much easier: https://lp.collegeboard.org/prior-prior-year

Given that Harvard defers about 82% to 84% of SCEA applicants, I might still opt to complete the paperwork by the March 1st deadline, when that information is also due to RD schools.

@brantly - Do you mean to say that, for college start year 2017, we CAN’T use 2016 income tax data even though available?

^^ That means, that starting with this year’s application cycle (2016-2017 - for students entering college in the fall of 2017), FAFSA, CSS Profile (and thereby all colleges) are basing financial aid awards off of prior-prior income tax returns (2015) and not 2016. This is something that is totally new and I wasn’t aware of it.

@TiggerDad No, you cannot use 2016 information on your Fafsa and CSS this cycle. Fill it out with 2015 tax returns. Then supply a supplemental letter (for CSS schools) to explain that your income has plummeted during 2016 .(I assume that’s why you prefer to supply 2016 income.)

For Fafsa-only schools, call they school’s financial aid office to explain. They will tell you what to do.

Darn it. We had to exercise our stock holding in 2015 which dramatically increased our income for that year’s tax filing.

If it was for a specific reason, like a medical expense or some other one-time expense, you can write a letter of explanation to the colleges. Some will take it under consideration.

Harvard will take that under consideration. There is a special circumstances section of the CSS and you can also write them a letter. Include documentation.

Some schools are not so flexible. (My husband had a stroke and lost his job and one school still held us to the amount based on his income prior to the stroke!)

If you can, I would get this out of the way now. If it is difficult to do by the deadline, then wait! But get it done in January if you can…

Harvard’s financial aid office is pretty darn good in terms of communicating. You can always schedule a meeting if the income for 2015 was seriously higher than normal. Establishing a relationship with your rep can be helpful.

But they will also just take a CSS or other note and documentation and consider it seriously.

@compmom - Thanks! I’ll be diligent in communicating to them about this, for sure!

By the way, I forgot to mention something that was recently decided by my son, namely, he wants to take a gap year between high school graduation and freshmen year in college. I’m assuming that we’d still need to file FAFSA this year or early next year using 2015 tax information and then file a new FAFSA when he starts the college in 2018 using 2016 tax information. Am I correct in my assumption here? If so, I’d also assume that the actual financial aid, if any, would be made based on the 2016 tax info?

The financial aid will be determined for the year in which is begins college. If he begins in 2018, FA will be based on 2016 tax return and assets at the time you fill out the 2018-2019 Fafsa/CSS.

@brantly - I understand that, but because my son’s applying for the college this year to determine which college he’s going to before taking a gap year, don’t I still need to fill out FAFSA this year since it’s required as a part of applying? My assumption is that I file FAFSA this year, then declare a gap year and fill out another FAFSA for the year 2018-19 when it becomes available for that year. Or, it doesn’t work that way?

I don’t know. I assume you’d fill out the current Fafsa so you’ll have an idea of what he’d get. But you’d have to ask the FA office (after he’d accepted) how his FA would be affected if he took a gap year.