Everything You Need to Know About the New FAFSA Changes

Paying for college is already hard enough, but luckily the U.S. Dept. of Education has made it easier for students to apply for aid.

Everything You Need to Know About the New FAFSA Changes (Getty Images)

Berkeley, CAHigh school seniors and college students listen up! Less than one month remains until FAFSA applications open for the 2024-2025 academic year, and with the first redesign in 40 years, there is a lot of different information out there about the new application. To make things simple, here are the most important changes and tips you need to know to have a smooth application process:

The FAFSA Opens Later

The FAFSA will be made available in December , with an official date yet to be announced. The closing date will stay on June 30, 2024, which means less time to submit a shorter application. Although the launch date coincides with the holiday season, that should not discourage you from applying! Funds are not unlimited, and some need-based aid may be first-come, first-serve.

After this year, the launch date will return to October to increase the number of applicants. According to NerdWallet, the class of 2018 missed out on a whopping $2.6 billion in federal aid because eligible students did not complete the FAFSA. So, don't assume you’re not eligible for aid; apply to find out!

Less Questions, Shorter Application

Previously an application with 108 questions, the FAFSA is now being changed to a maximum of about 46 questions. Plus, since the online form is dynamic, some students won’t be presented with all 46 questions. This new format will make the process less daunting for students and their families. 

Some New Terminology

What was once the iconic EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is being replaced by the SAI (Student Aid Index). While both numbers represent the amount a household could expect to pay for college, SAI introduces a whole new formula to calculate aid. Plus, SAI now allows for up to $1,500 in contributions whereas the EFC allowed a minimum of zero.

If you would like to learn more about SAI, check out this preliminary guide published by the Dept. of Education.

For Students with Separated Parents…

In the past, with cases of divorced parents, the “Custodial Parent” was defined as the parent(s) with whom you’ve lived more in the past 12 months. Now, the parent who has provided the student with more financial aid in the past 12 months OR has the greater income/assets will need to provide their information. If this parent has remarried, information is needed from the parent AND their spouse.

Application “Contributors”

Any spouse, parent or step-parent who is asked to provide information is now called a “contributor” to the application. They must create their own FSA ID and password through the StudentAid.gov website for security purposes. All contributors are expected to provide their birth date, Social Security number, and full name.

Another layer of protection is being added to any contributor’s Federal Tax Information (FTI). Contributors must provide their consent for the Department of Education to receive tax information. If consent is not given, the student will still be able to submit the form. However, an SAI will not be calculated.

You Can Now List More Colleges

The online form gives you access to list up to 20 colleges and universities on your application. If you are filling the FAFSA out in the PDF version, it is still limited to 10. 

The Form is Available in More Languages

The final major change to the FAFSA is that the form will no longer be provided in JUST English and Spanish. The FAFSA will now be available in the top 11 most common languages spoken in the U.S. by English learner students and their parents. 

How to Prepare for the FAFSA

There are only a few more weeks left until the FAFSA form comes out, but taking the steps below will ensure the process is stress-free.

  • Make sure you and your contributors have an FSA ID. You will need these for the application and it will be one less step to worry about once it’s done.
  • Prepare your SSN and collect all tax forms. If you don’t have your number memorized, be aware of your card’s location so you can have it with you when it’s time to apply. Your or your contributors’ income tax returns, W-2 forms, 1040 forms, and other records of money earned will also be needed.
  • Mark the date. Although there is no official date yet, keep checking the StudentAid.gov website throughout December so you can be the first one to know when the application opens.
  • (OPTIONAL) Estimate your aid. If you’re curious and have a bit of time on your hands, the FSA Office has released a Federal Student Aid Calculator. This tool is NOT the official FAFSA form but can provide an early estimate of how much money you are eligible for. 

Knives Nguyen, (he/them/theirs) is a journalist from the Bay Area who covers entertainment, culture, and student life. You can connect with them on LinkedIn: @knivesnguyen.

Edited by Nykeya Woods.

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