This year the Department of Education moved the start date to apply for federal student aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from Jan. to Oct. 1. The new deadline is part of an effort to streamline financial aid processes and more accurately predict the amount of financial aid students may receive.
According to Wheaton’s Interim Chief Enrollment Management Officer and Director of Student Financial Services Karen Belling, this change is beneficial for prospective and current students alike because schools can now give financial aid awards earlier. She projects that this will give prospective students more time to weigh their enrollment options and could also mean that financial aid award projections will become more accurate. In years past, financial aid has been determined by tax information estimates of the current year. Aid awards were initially determined from estimates because families do not have all of their tax information available by the time they had to start filling out the application. The final financial aid amounts awarded reflected tax records after they had been completed.
Because the date has been changed, the tax information reported will change as well. Students in the process of completing the FAFSA will now use tax information from 2016 — information that has been complete for quite some time — rather than tax estimations from 2017. Belling is optimistic that using older information will speed up the process of awarding aid. This year, students applying early action to Wheaton will receive decisions and financial aid awards before Christmas.
According to Belling, the Student Financial Services office is committed to simplifying the process of applying for financial aid. As part of their efforts to simplify the financial aid process last year, the Financial Aid and Student Accounts offices were combined to form Student Financial Services.
Belling explained that through the changes in the financial aid office and to the financial aid process, “ maintained commitment to need-based aid in a time when many schools are shifting more and more dollars to merit aid.” Still, over the past five years, Wheaton has increased its merit aid.
For sophomore Seth Chun, the change in Wheaton aid will have a greater impact than the change in the FAFSA deadline. Chun told the Record, “Wheaton’s financial aid is huge in the sense that my family doesn’t have to pay the full amount. In terms of the FAFSA, given my family situation, that specific update doesn’t really affect us very much. I do see the benefits of it.” He concluded, “It’s good and bad in terms of that update.”
Chun is not the only one who benefits from financial aid awarded by Wheaton. The average discount rate is 40 percent for freshmen starting at Wheaton in 2017. Not factoring in federal grants, state grants, outside scholarships or loans, the average Wheaton student pays $20,800 of the $35,190 sticker price for tuition*. The median student pays $19,425*. Only 18 percent of students pay full tuition, including room and board*.
Reduced tuition is due in part to the generosity of alumni, parents of students and friends of Wheaton who give to the Wheaton Fund. Phonathon Captain and junior Emily Barbosa spoke with the Record about how Phonathon cares for and stewards relationships. “Our primary job is to steward that relationship, and usually that means asking them to demonstrate their care by backing the school financially,” she said. The gifts of alumni, parents of students and friends of Wheaton to the Wheaton Fund help to “reduce the sticker price of a Wheaton education by about $10,000 each year,” according to Director of Annual Giving Elise Tomlin. Not only does it decrease tuition costs, but the Wheaton Fund is “one of many sources of financial and scholarship aid for students,” Tomlin also said.
Next year, to receive aid from the college, students will no longer fill out an additional Wheaton financial aid application. Instead, moving forward Financial Services will accept the completed FAFSA as sufficient to determine Wheaton aid awarded.
*Figures refer to Fall 2017 freshmen and do not factor in any federal grants, state grants, outside scholarships or loans