The new FAFSA: Changes to college financial aid application are 'tectonic,' says expert


This year, the FAFSA will look very different. And this year, the FAFSA will look a lot different.

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The FAFSA serves as the gateway to all federal aid money, including loans, work study and grants, which are the most desirable kinds of assistance because they typically do not need to be repaid.

In ordinary years, high school graduates miss out on billions in federal grants because they don’t fill out the FAFSA. Many families assume that they will not qualify for financial assistance and do not bother to fill out the FAFSA. Some say that a long and complicated application is the biggest obstacle.

A plan has been in development for years to simplify the FAFSA. Consolidated Appropriations Act, passed in 2020, was designed to streamline the application process. Those changes are finally going into effect.

What’s changed with the new FAFSA

A new start date

For the 2024-2025 school year, the FAFSA filing season will open in December, two months later than in previous years. The Education Department has said that it will return to an October 1 start date for the 2024-2025 school year. )

“There’s a delay in the start of the form due to the complexity of simplification,” said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

Despite the postponement, it’s still advantageous to file as soon as possible, according to Rick Castellano, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae.

The earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better their chances are to receive aid, since some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds. “You want to get in line,” Castellano said.

A new affordability calculation

The simplified form uses a calculation now called the “Student Aid Index” to estimate how much a family can afford to pay.

Historically, many factors, not just income, go into how much aid students receive, including the total number of people in the household and the number of children in college, as well as other financial commitments such as a home equity loan or child support payments.

Now, the formula will pull federal tax information directly from the IRS.

An end to the sibling discount

Going forward, the Department of Education will no longer give families a break for having multiple children in college at the same time, effectively eliminating the “sibling discount. The Department of Education will no longer give families a break for having multiple children in college at the same time. This is a major change that will be implemented starting with the 2024-2025 school year.

The elimination of the multiple student adjustment is one of the many tectonic changes under FAFSA simplification.

Kalman Chany

author of The Princeton Review’s “Paying for College”

Up until now, “the multiple student adjustment has been the single most important data element affecting one’s eligibility for federal student aid,” Chany said.

Middle- and higher-income families with more than one student in college will be impacted the most, according to Kantrowitz. Kantrowitz says that families with more than one student in college will be most affected. Chany pointed out that this change only affects federal student aid eligibility. “Colleges can still adjust their institutional aid money based on how many family members are in college. “

An expansion of federal aid eligibility

At the same time, the new FAFSA will raise the family income threshold, making more students eligible for federal need-based aid.

More than half a million additional students will qualify for a Pell Grant, a type of aid available to low-income families, according to Kantrowitz. And of those than qualify, more than 1.5 million will qualify for the maximum amount.

Currently, the maximum Pell Grant award is $7,395.

‘This is a good first step’

Under the new system, more students will have access to federal grants, but some — likely wealthier — students will miss out on the sibling discount, Kantrowitz said. This is a great first step. Kantrowitz says there will be hiccups with the new FAFSA. It has the potential to be a success, but there will always be teething problems when there is a major shift.