Fall break has come and gone at The University of New Mexico, and, believe it or not, it's already time to start preparing for the next school year. 

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form that every college student needs to fill out in order to be eligible for financial aid. Beginning this year, the FAFSA filing deadline is earlier than previous years, as part of an effort to make the application easier and more accurate.

“FAFSA, which has traditionally been released on January 1, came out October 1; three months earlier than in previous years,” said Brian Malone, director of UNM’s Financial Aid office. “It’s great, because the students will now have a longer window to fill out the FAFSA.”

By having the FAFSA available earlier, students will be able to complete their federal aid applications in the same timeframe as their college admissions applications, streamlining the college application process.

Students and their families will have more time to resolve any income verification requirements or supplemental requests from financial aid offices. In addition, learning about their federal aid eligibility earlier will allow students and families to better understand each institution’s cost information and make more informed decisions about which school is the right match for them.

The new process will use the previous year’s tax information, instead of the current year. By using earlier income data, Malone says that applicants can “utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to import their tax data in just a couple of clicks” by the time they are ready to apply for financial aid. This will make the application process “more accurate and quicker” than the previous method and they only have to worry about completing the FAFSA as opposed to also doing taxes at the same time as in previous years.

“A primary goal of the new timeline is to get the information out earlier so students and families have more time to plan financially and do comparisons,” said Malone.

Additionally, the financial aid office will have more time to provide critical individual counseling and advice to prospective and continuing students.

Schools may be able to provide financial aid award notifications to new students as early as “the middle of February,” according to Malone -- perhaps aligning with current scholarship notification dates.

For more information about completing the federal financial aid form, visit FAFSA.