The college financial aid form filled out annually by millions of families is getting an overhaul. The new version is now available. and it comes with some major changes that could impact your child’s financial aid for the 2024-25 academic year.
The Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, typically opens each fall for families to provide financial data to colleges their children are applying to or attending. It’s a form that must be filled out annually so that universities can assess a family’s most recent financial data and adjust their financial aid.
But this year, the FAFSA is rolling out two months late because of the overhaul. Instead of opening on the traditional date of about October 1, the Department of Education only this week unveiled the latest version of the form, while noting that the agency might periodically pause access as it tries to fine-tune the new FAFSA. The DOE said on Dec. 31 that it was working to fix some “minor issues” affecting users in the application process.
The revamp’s purpose is to simplify the form, which has the reputation of being something of a bear to fill out. But it will also include some new ways that aid is calculated, which could help some students get more generous packages. Other students, however, could get less aid from their colleges.
“It’s a really big change to the way financial aid eligibility is calculated,” noted Shannon Vasconcelos, senior director of college finance for Bright Horizons College Coach. “The motivation was to simplify it and make it easier for families to fill it out in order to make it more likely that students and families compete the form and are more likely to go college.”
She added, “Some of the changes will benefit families, some of them may not benefit families.”
Here’s what to know.
What’s simplified about the new FAFSA?
First, applicants will be able to directly retrieve their financial information with a tool that connects with the IRS and uploads data from their parents’ most recent tax forms.
Secondly, the new FAFSA form will allow people to skip questions that aren’t relevant to them, which means some families may only answer as few as 18 questions, compared with 103 potential questions on the prior year’s form, according to the Department of Education.
Is financial aid calculated differently with the new form?
Yes, according to the Department of Education.
In previous years, the completed form determined an “Expected Family Contribution,” which showed what share of tuition and fees the applicant’s family was judged as able to cover, based on their financial profile. But after submitting the revamped 2024-25 application, students will instead receive a “Student Aid Index,” or SAI, which is an index number based on the financial data provided by the student and their family.
The index can range from –1500 to 999999, the Education Department says. That may seem meaningless, but as education expert Mark Kantrowitz noted, “A higher SAI leads to less financial aid, while a lower SAI increases eligibility for need-based financial aid.”
An applicant with zero or negative SAI will qualify for the maximum Federal Pell Grant, which stands at about $7,400 for the current academic year, Kantrowitz wrote. However, no colleges as of yet have said they plan to provide more financial aid or grants to students with a negative index score, he noted.
Will more low-income students get aid?
It’s possible. The Education Department is forecasting that 1.5 million additional students will qualify for the maximum Pell Grant for the 2024-25 academic year. That would bring the total number of students who get the maximum Pell Grant to 5.2 million, it says.
Could the new form hurt my chances of getting financial aid?
Possibly, according to experts.
Families with more than one student in college could be dinged because of the new calculation, which gets rid of a discount for parents with multiple children in college during the same year. That could hit families with multiple college-age students, experts say.
“Essentially, they would determine the family could contribute $20,000 with one child in college, but if the next year a younger sibling was also in college, that $20,000 would become $10,000 a piece, accounting that they have to make tuition payments for two kids,” Vasconcelos said. “They are eliminating that discounting for siblings.”
Will the delayed rollout be an issue for financial aid?
The delay could add to the time crunch for students trying to decide where to attend college, experts say.
FAFSA information won’t be provided to colleges until “late January,” according to the Education Department. That’s several weeks after most college applications are due, and there is some concern that the later date could delay colleges’ financial aid offers to students.
“Colleges will be on a very, very compressed deadline,” Vasconcelos said. “Students will likely receive their offers later than they usually would.”