The New FAFSA Is Here
(Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
The new FAFSA opened as a soft launch on December 31, 2023. The FAFSA is generally available 24/7 but may be briefly unavailable for maintenance as the design team makes adjustments. The simplified design is intended to be shorter, easier to complete, more understandable, and available in more languages. For 18 million prospective college students seeking aid for 2024-2025, the FAFSA is required for ANY federal student aid, including scholarships, work-study, loans, and Pell Grants. Some merit scholarships also require completion of the FAFSA. Also, accessing National Direct Student Loans requires completion of the FAFSA. Here are more reasons to complete the FAFSA.
Here are some challenges of the new FAFSA to keep in mind:
Normally the FAFSA opens October 1 each year. Due to the delayed opening, admission and financial aid offices are waiting on the FAFSA Submission Summary (previously the Student Aid Report) for every student applying.
The U.S. Department of Education says these summaries will not be shared with colleges until late January or later. Families will thus have to wait until after colleges can process the information to receive college aid offers. You may need to wait until February/March to evaluate which college financial aid package best fits your finances.
As the FAFSA team continues to tweak the live form, they will update their Open Issues page. You can also follow FAFSA on social media for updates on availability each day.
If you are a first-time FAFSA filer, you and your student must separately apply for an FSA ID using your social security numbers before completing the FAFSA. It can take several business days to process your FSA ID. Write down your FSA ID and password AND your student’s (you’ll need to create separate ones) and keep them safe—you’ll need them again next year!
The New FAFSA
Here is a PDF version of the form for your reference. The online version includes an IRS Data Retrieval Tool that can save you substantial time and effort. You can call the FAFSA Hotline at 800-4FEDAID (433-3243) or get help from the Federal Student Aid Information Center.
The U.S. Department of Education determines your Student Aid Index (SAI) (previously the Expected Family Contribution or EFC) by reviewing your FAFSA. Your SAI is the government’s estimate of the amount you can afford to pay for your student’s college in the coming year. The school’s cost of attendance (COA) minus your family’s SAI is your demonstrated need. Colleges may not award need-based aid that exceeds your demonstrated need. Often colleges make need-based aid offers well below a family’s demonstrated need. Click here for the 2024-25 SAI Formula.
The FAFSA4caster provides an early estimate of eligibility for need-based aid. But you still must file an actual FAFSA form to be eligible for federal student aid.
Calculate your own expected cost for each school using the calculator found on each school’s website (many school sites are listed here), or click here for an SAI estimate. Again, schools often do NOT grant the aid necessary so that your actual net cost equals your SAI; your eventual cost is usually higher than your SAI—one reason you’ll want schools that fit your budget, schools that also offer merit-based scholarships.