FAFSA revamp streamlines application, causes delays

Illustration of laptop open to fafsa page
By J Frank

Students who filed the 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) this winter likely noticed a variety of changes. After a three-month delay, the form for students featured a newly streamlined experience for students and their fellow contributors. This overhaul is the result of two recently-passed laws — The Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act (FUTURE Act) and the FAFSA Simplification  Act.  According to the Federal Student Aid website, these acts aim to make the financial aid process more accessible for students. What do these changes mean for students and their families?

The FAFSA Simplification Act, true to its name, dramatically cut back on the number of questions included in the FAFSA form — from over 100 to under 50 for most students. These questions are supplemented by requiring working students and parents or other contributors to consent to IRS tax data retrieval, if applicable. The look and flow of the FAFSA have been updated in an effort to simplify the online process. 

The language surrounding adults assisting students with their college finances has also shifted. Rather than only parents, the FAFSA now invites spouses, biological or adoptive parents and step-parents to assist college students in applying for financial aid as contributors. Other relatives and legal guardians are still not considered contributors. 

Being identified as a FAFSA contributor does not require an adult to provide financial support to the student, but allows them to participate in the aid application. Contributors do not need to provide a social security number, allowing for more aid options for immigrant and international students. The form is also available in new additional languages to further increase accessibility for multinational students. If a student has multiple separate contributors, as is the case for students with divorced or separated parents, the FAFSA will only require financial information from the contributor who predominantly supported the student financially in the past year. 

As financial aid decisions for next year have not yet been released, it is unclear how these changes around contributors and family financial information will impact aid for students. The Federal Student Aid website states that the Student Aid Index has replaced the Expected Family Contribution calculation in the new form. This index reports a number — though not a dollar amount — that schools will use to determine aid eligibility.

According to USA Today, this index will no longer consider how many household members are currently enrolled in higher education. The value of familial assets like small businesses and family farms must also be reported in the new FAFSA. Defining these lines around contributors and the information they are required to provide will certainly clarify the financial aid application process but may impact students differently depending on their circumstances. 

In an effort to provide more federal aid to students, the FUTURE Act extends Federal Pell Grants. FAFSA’s Student Aid Index, federal poverty guidelines and other demographic information will determine Pell Grant eligibility. Students who file the FAFSA will automatically be considered for these grants. The U.S. Department of Education reports that “610,000 new students will be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant this coming school year and 1.5 million students will qualify for the maximum award amount.” In the 2023-24 school year, that amount was $7,395. The maximum award amount for the 2024-25 school year is yet to be announced. 

The Student Aid Report has been replaced by the FAFSA Submission Summary, which is not an aid offer but a detailed estimation of federal financial aid for which a student is eligible. This report includes the Student Aid Index and can be sent to up to twenty selected schools. Schools can use this information to determine financial aid packages.

Due to the delay in the FAFSA 2024-25 release, students are expected to receive aid information later than usual this year. This delay may result in more rushed college decisions for incoming students, especially those relying heavily on financial aid, and last-minute juggling for already-enrolled students. 

“The delays will have the highest impact on students from the lowest income backgrounds,” USA Today concludes. “Once these aid packages are released to students, we can expect to learn more about how new Pell Grants, contributor regulations and aid index calculations impact the financial accessibility of college for students.”

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