When Erin Wolfe joined Susquehanna's administration in 2004, it was more of a homecoming than a new beginning. Wolfe graduated from SU in 2002, having earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing. She initially joined the administration as assistant director of major and planned giving. She made the move to financial aid in 2006 and assumed the role of director in 2014. Wolfe recently talked to Susquehanna Currents about the changes both her office and the federal financial aid process have undergone in the last year.
SC: A lot has changed for your office in the last year. Tell us about that.
EW: Over the past year, we merged the Offices of Financial Aid and Student Accounts together into Student Financial Services. This merger has enabled us to eliminate redundancies and provide better information to students, while still maintaining the internal financial controls necessary for proper aid administration.
SC: You've also been juggling changes to the federal aid process. What are those changes?
EW: On Sept. 14, 2015, President Obama announced significant changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. Starting with the 2017-18 application cycle, which is already underway, students can submit a FAFSA as early as Oct. 1. In addition, the new application process requires students and families to report income information from an earlier tax year.
SC: How does the new process benefit students?
EW: The main goal of the Early FAFSA is to make applying for financial aid easier and give families an earlier idea of their financial aid eligibility. Since the application can be filed three months earlier than in the past, students can simultaneously submit admission applications and the FAFSA. And by using older tax data, families can use information from filed tax returns rather than estimating and having to go back later to update the forms. It also allows families to take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which will automatically transfer key elements from a tax return directly to the FAFSA.
SC: What are your top pieces of advice for students applying for financial aid?
EW: First and foremost, file early to get the FAFSA out of the way. Know the deadlines; school and state grant deadlines can vary. Create a calendar to stay on top of the process. Second, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It helps simplify the process, speeds up the time it takes to submit the FAFSA, and significantly decreases discrepancies. However, students and parents should still review and answer all questions related to asset and untaxed income information prior to signing and submitting the FAFSA. Finally, keep track of your FSA ID and maintain it in a secure and safe location. Students and parents need this to apply for and track federal grants and loans.