After delays and setbacks, the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid is finally here … sort of.
The Education Department said the form will be available periodically online during a soft launch of the updated application.
The redesigned form is a product of two bipartisan laws passed three years ago to streamline the application process and increase access to grant and scholarship money. With fewer questions and more data directly uploaded for applicants, experts say completing the FAFSA should be easier than ever.
The updated FAFSA formula will also offer more opportunities for students from low- and moderate-income households to qualify for financial assistance. At the same time, the changes will reduce eligibility for some families, such as those with multiple children in college.
Here is a look at how the new FAFSA will impact the millions of students applying or enrolled in college for the 2024-25 academic year.
Who should fill out a FAFSA?
Any student pursuing higher education or a trade should fill out the application. The federal government uses the FAFSA to determine eligibility for grants, work-study jobs and loans, while many states and schools rely on the form to dole out scholarships.
While students are ultimately responsible for filling out the FAFSA, those who are dependents will need their parent’s financial information to complete the process. With a family’s consent, the Education Department can automatically access tax information from the Internal Revenue Service through a data transfer that one of the laws—dubbed the FUTURE Act—simplified.
What is new about this year’s application?
The Education Department began a phased implementation of the FAFSA changes in the 2021-22 award year by removing selective service and drug conviction requirements for federal aid eligibility. The following year, the department made it easier for homeless and foster youth to apply for money and ended the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated people.
While those changes got the overhaul rolling, the biggest updates to the FAFSA will take effect this year. Among them is the length of the form: Some applicants now will have to answer as few as 18 questions. By comparison, there were as many as 103 questions on the 2022-23 FAFSA.
Another change is the transition to the Student Aid Index, or SAI—a figure used to determine a student’s ability to pay for college and the amount of aid they receive. An applicant’s SAI is calculated using a new need analysis set out in one of the laws—dubbed the FAFSA Simplification Act. It replaces the Expected Family Contribution used in previous years.
The SAI still represents an estimate of what families can pay for college, considering factors such as income and assets. But whereas the lowest estimated contribution in the EFC was zero, the index can produce a negative number. Also new: The index calculation will no longer take into account the number of children enrolled in college, which places families paying multiple tuition bills at a disadvantage for getting more aid. Families also must now report the value of their family farm or small business.
However, more of a student and family’s income will be protected from the formula used to calculate how much they should contribute to their college costs. The amount protected will increase by 20 percent for parents, 35 percent for dependent students and almost 60 percent for students with children of their own, adjusted annually for inflation.
That change will make more students eligible for the federal Pell Grant, a form of aid for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association has projected that approximately 2.1 million students previously ineligible for Pell could become recipients as a result of the update.
In addition, students whose household income is below the poverty threshold will automatically get the maximum Pell Grant. Students with children of their own will qualify if they earn less than 225 percent of the federal poverty line for their family size, while students who are dependents will qualify if their parents earn less than 175 percent. In all, more than 5.2 million students could now be eligible for a full Pell – an increase of about 1.5 million students, according to the Education Department.
How do I complete the FAFSA?
Students can fill out the form online by going to fafsa.gov or completing the paper version and mailing it to the Education Department. Anyone required to fill out a part of the FAFSA, whether that be the student or parent, must now create their own ID and password on the Federal Student Aid website. Students can list up to 20 schools on the online FAFSA, but are limited to 10 schools on the paper form.
Is there an application deadline?
Yes, the federal deadline to submit the 2024-25 FAFSA will be June 30, 2025.
But the Education Department says there is no need to rush to complete the application as it soft-launches the form to monitor and fix issues in the system. The agency will not transmit results to schools until later in January.
Still, it’s best to fill out the form sooner than later, as funds are limited. Early submissions also give students a better chance of accessing state and institutional scholarships, as some states and schools have early deadlines for their grants.