For decades, the FAFSA® has reliably opened at the beginning of October—that is, until this year. In early 2023, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the form would be delayed this year by two months. The delayed open date for the 2024-2025 aid year is by December 31, 2023.
Keep in mind that this delay could potentially cause problems for 12th grade families navigating this significant change to the college admissions process. If there’s anything we’ve learned from being in the college prep sector for 30+ years, it’s that the college admissions landscape is ever-changing. In this post, we go over five tips for how families can best adapt to this delay in the admissions process.
What Is the FAFSA and Why Is It Changing?
The FAFSA is a form provided by the U.S. Department of Education that determines a student’s eligibility for government-sponsored financial aid for attending college. This year, the form has undergone significant changes to help simplify the process of applying for financial aid.
As we noted in the introduction above, the FAFSA traditionally has opened on October 1st of a student’s 12th grade year. However, this year we expect the form to open by December 31st. Forbes reports that a shorter application window could pose some challenges, such as less time for families who need additional guidance when completing the form. With early decision deadlines already coming out, there is a likelihood that an increased number of families may make decisions without knowing the full cost of attendance.
Despite the obstacles a delayed date may create this year, the U.S. Department of Education hopes the changes will help simplify the FAFSA process for families.
FAFSA changes include:
- Terminology updates:
- “Contributor” is a new term used to describe family members who have to consent to send their tax information from the IRS to the FAFSA form. This process may now require a spouse or stepparent to fill out the form. Each contributor must have their own StudentAid.gov account (contributors without Social Security numbers can still create an account).
- “Student Aid Index” (SAI) is the new term for Expect Family Contribution (EFC).
- Integrated process: Contributors can now consent and approve to have their tax information directly transferred from the IRS to the FAFSA.
- Status updates: Now students have the ability to view the status of the form after hitting submit, as well as check on the status of contributor tasks.
- Less questions: Inside Higher Ed reported that a preview draft of the new FAFSA consisted of 46 maximum questions instead of the previous 108.
- Widened access to Pell Grants: The Department of Education estimates that the new FAFSA form will help 1.2 million more students receive the maximum Pell Grant amount.
- Additional changes: There may be changes to required information for unique situations, such as a student with divorced/separated parents, homeless students or students in the foster care system, or families who own farms or small businesses.
Filling Out The New FAFSA – 5 Tips For 12th Grade Families
1. Register for Your FSA ID Beforehand
The FAFSA website expects an uptick in user activity on the day that the application opens, so we recommend families register for their FSA ID in advance. If possible, try to create these accounts as soon as possible to ensure that an application is submitted in a timely fashion.
All contributors will need to create their own FSA ID account. Families should watch this video and determine all necessary contributors in advance of the application deadline. Students will need to communicate a contributor’s role in helping them obtain financial aid for college.
2. Gather Required Information
Try and gather all needed information in advance to the expected application open date. While the form process has been simplified, some personal information may be required to enter manually when submitting the application. Having this information on hand ahead of time will ensure accuracy and prevent potential delays.
Information needed when completing the form:
- Student Social Security Number (if you have one)
- Parents’ Social Security Number (if you’re a dependent)
- Tax returns (2022)
- Records of child support received
- Current balances of cash, savings, and checking accounts
- Net worth of investments, businesses, and farms
- Contributor personal information: Name, date of birth, email addresses, and social security number
3. Take Advantage of Resources
The U.S. Department of Education has provided a wealth of information regarding the changes to the FAFSA. We encourage families to check out the resources available in the digital Toolkit, as well as on the Federal Student Aid YouTube page.
4. Fill Out the Form Promptly
Some families don’t realize how important it is to complete the FAFSA in a timely manner. This is even more crucial this year since there’s already a delay in college financial aid offices receiving the information needed to distribute awards.
There is only so much financial aid available to students at each college, and it’s distributed on a first come first serve basis. In other words, the sooner you submit the FAFSA, the more likely you’ll be to secure the full amount of financial aid for which you qualify.
This process can be confusing, and keep in mind that there are multiple deadlines to consider when filling out the form. In general, it’s best to submit your form as soon as possible, which is why we recommend planning ahead.
- College deadlines: Many colleges have their own deadlines by which they need you to submit the FAFSA. Find it on the websites for the colleges on your list. If you’re having trouble finding this information online, we recommend reaching out to the college’s admissions or financial aid offices. Keep in mind that there may be different deadlines depending on when you applied (Early Decision, Regular Decision, etc.)
- State deadlines: Each state will publish a priority deadline by which they recommend that students fill out the form. For example, the priority deadline for Texas is March 15, 2024.
- Federal deadline: This deadline actually takes place after a student has already attended classes for the academic year. Consider it a last resort for unique situations such as technical errors or other extenuating circumstances. We highly recommend that you don’t wait this long to submit the FAFSA, if possible. The federal deadline for aid year 2024-2025 is June 30,2025.
5. Understand What To Expect
While you wait for colleges to determine your financial aid eligibility, become familiar with the type of financial award options typically offered. There will be additional steps required to accept your financial aid awards, and we also recommend accepting these in a timely fashion. Understanding the difference between grants, loans, etc. can help speed up the decision process. We wrote a Financial Aid Guide that goes over each of these options and answers frequently asked questions.
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