College-bound students: If you haven't already submitted your financial aid application for 2017-18, it's time to get a move on.
"For families that are interested in financial aid, earlier is always better," said Peter Farrell, managing director and senior principal for enrollment services at Royall & Company.
Under changes this year, students have been able to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid since Oct. 1. In previous years, they had to wait another three months, until Jan. 1. They can also use financial data from their most recent tax return. (That's the one you filed in April, not the one you're already thinking about preparing for next spring.)
Plenty of families have taken advantage of that early access. Applications in the first 2½ weeks of this year's FAFSA season were up 4 percent from the same time period last season, according to the Department of Education. By Nov. 22 this year — more than a month before students could even file the FAFSA last year — colleges had already received FAFSA filings equivalent to an average 32 percent of the previous academic year's total, according to a Royall analysis of 171 colleges.