Heather Barber
February 2024

What's Happening with the New FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) underwent a major revamp after more than 40 years. Typically, the application process begins on October 1st; however, the season got a late start and did not open until December 31, 2023. As a result, the application process is experiencing further complications, thus creating additional delays.

But first, how does the new FAFSA work?

Whether you're filling out the FAFSA for the first time or you're a returning family, there are a few key items you should be aware of.

The new and improved FAFSA form expands eligibility for federal student aid, including Pell Grants, and provides a more streamlined user experience. Thanks to updates to student aid calculations, an additional 610,000 students from low-income backgrounds will be eligible to receive Federal Pell Grants. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may also be able to skip up to 26 questions during the application process, meaning that it could only take you 10 minutes to complete the form!

After you submit your application, you'll receive an email confirming that your application has been received, along with an estimated Student Aid Index (SAI) and your estimated eligibility for Federal Pell Grants.

FAFSA information will be transmitted to schools, who will then provide you with personalized aid information. This may take a few weeks to process.

You'll be notified by email once your information has been sent to your selected schools. You can then log into your StudentAid.gov account to review your FAFSA submission summary, which includes your official SAI calculation and Federal Pell Grant eligibility. 

Be sure to check your state's individual aid process, as some may have changed for the 2024-2025 award year.

Should I apply?

As college costs continue to rise, many students and families are struggling to find ways to afford higher education. It's important to be prepared, even if you don't believe you qualify for FAFSA. Here are a few reasons to consider applying:

  • If you have two or more children in college simultaneously, it may decrease your need-based eligibility threshold. Although FAFSA no longer considers the number of children in college as a factor for federal aid eligibility, most colleges still use this data to calculate institutional aid, which is another source of grants and scholarships.
  • Many families believe they have enough saved for college, only to realize later that they don't. It's important to note that some schools won't allow you to apply for federal aid once you have been admitted, and a waiting period of at least one full academic year may be required.
  • If you're applying for merit aid or other institutional scholarships, you may be required to fill out the FAFSA. While most colleges don't require this, it's essential to verify each school's eligibility criteria.

It’s not a game.

It is important to determine if you will need to apply for federal aid before you begin your college application process. When you come across the question, “Do you expect to apply for need-based financial aid?” ensure that you answer this correctly the first time. If you indicate that you will not be applying for federal aid and your circumstances change, contact your school's financial aid department and let them know you need to apply. This is not only a polite gesture but also helps to avoid confusion. Your eligibility for institutional aid may also be influenced by whether or not you require federal aid.

Stay Informed!

With so many changes happening right now, stay informed! Follow Federal Student Aid on social media for resources and announcements.

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