Students will now be able to file their FAFSA months earlier than before.
Students will now be able to file their FAFSA months earlier than before. - 
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High school seniors and college students heading back to school should circle one date on their calendars: Oct. 1. That’s the day the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for the 2017-18 school year comes out. It’s three months earlier than in the past, part of an effort by the Obama Administration to simplify the complicated aid process.

The FAFSA used to debut Jan. 1 each year, after many students had already applied to college. Now students will have more time to fill out the form. They will also be able to find out earlier how much help they can expect from the government, said Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network.

“Students who fill out the FAFSA in October or early November would have that information with them as they’re deciding where to apply to college,” she said.

Another big change: In the past, students had to enter tax information from the most recent year, before many families had even filed their taxes. Now they can use data from one year earlier and import it directly from the IRS.

That will improve a cumbersome process that can discourage people from applying for aid, said Kimberly Jones with the Council for Opportunity in Education, which advocates for low-income students.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a panacea that’s necessarily going to guarantee smooth sailing for all students,” she said.

In one recent year, 2 million students who would have qualified for federal Pell grants for college didn’t apply, according to Edvisors.

A new bill proposed in Congress would further simplify the application and require students to file the form just once, instead of every year of college.

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Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports