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Whether you’re a high school senior or a returning college student, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be overwhelming. You have to answer over 100 questions and ensure everything is correct, so you don’t miss out on aid opportunities.
In an effort to make the application process easier for students and their families, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act on Dec. 27, 2020. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you can expect from the FAFSA this year, in addition to upcoming changes for the 2024-25 academic year.
What is the FAFSA Simplification Act?
The FAFSA Simplification Act was enacted by Congress as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. This law reduces the number of questions you’ll have to answer on the form, makes crucial changes to the Higher Education Act of 1965 to expand Pell Grant eligibility and removes outdated restrictions to make federal student aid more accessible to all students.
Key improvements include:
- Reducing the number of questions in the FAFSA by two-thirds, going from 108 to just 36, while changing the language in which the questions are redacted to make them more comprehensible.
- Revamping the entire Federal Student Aid website with a new platform that allows students to import tax return information, as well as personal and parental information to improve accuracy.
- Maximize the reuse of previously collected data, including documents used to prove homelessness or dependency override, so students don’t have to collect these each year if their situation hasn’t changed.
- Expanding the living expenses allowance that are included as part of the schools’ cost of attendance, to reduce shelter and food insecurity among college students.
- Repealing the limitations regarding the number of years students can receive Direct Subsidized federal loans.
- Expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students who were previously ineligible due to drug-related convictions or incarceration, as well as changing the way Pell Grant eligibility is calculated.
- Restoring Pell Grant lifetime eligibility for students whose school closed while they were enrolled, as well as to those who were defrauded by their schools.
- Replacing the expected family contribution (EFC) with the Student Aid Index (SAI), and replacing it with a new formula to expand access.
- Removing the requirement for male students between the ages of 18 and 25 to register with the Selective Service System to receive federal student aid.
“Although these are huge changes, we do anticipate that FAFSA simplification will be a positive experience for the majority of students and families,” says MorraLee Keller, senior director of Strategic Programming at the National College Attainment Network (NCAN).
“There will be some populations that will be impacted by the changes made to the formula related to the calculation of income and assets. But, hopefully, in those cases, maybe colleges will be ready to offer some aid if they’re at risk of losing state or federal grants to replace that,” she adds.
When does the FAFSA Simplification Act go into effect?
The original plan was for the FAFSA Simplification Act to roll out by the 2023-24 FAFSA cycle, which opens on Oct. 1, 2022. However, the Department of Education decided to push the deadline by one year and implement all of the changes outlined in this law using a phased approach, spanning between the 2021-22 and 2024-25 academic years.
“Overhauling the FAFSA is a major project and not something you can whip out in any given year,” Keller says. “Between getting a new platform, and completely redesigning the form and the tools for people to use, you have to have lead time, so it’s better to take an extra year and do it right,” she adds.
Changes to the 2023-24 FAFSA
The 2023-24 FAFSA, which opens on Oct. 1, 2022, will look almost the same as last year’s, according to Keller.
Some of the changes that will be incorporated into this year’s FAFSA include the following:
- Male students under the age of 26 are no longer required to register with the Selective Service System to receive federal financial aid.
- Students that have drug-related convictions won’t lose their eligibility to receive federal financial aid.
- Eligible undergraduate students who take out Direct Subsidized federal loans will be able to keep receiving their interest subsidized beyond the period exceeding the 150 percent of the length of their academic program — something that wasn’t possible before.
- Incarcerated individuals who are currently enrolled in a Prison Education Program will be eligible to receive the Pell Grant.
Additionally, both the Selective Service registration and the drug conviction-related questions will be completely removed from the FAFSA in July 2023. Still, it’s worth pointing out that although these questions will remain in the form for a few more months, your responses won’t impact your eligibility to get financial aid — same as last year.
Changes to the 2024-25 FAFSA
All of the major revisions outlined in the FAFSA Simplification Act will take place during the 2024-25 FAFSA cycle, which opens next year, on Oct. 1, and ends on June 30, 2025.
These are the main things to be on the lookout for:
- Starting July 1, 2024, the FAFSA will only have a maximum of 36 questions instead of 108.
- The form will be available in 11 languages to benefit those who aren’t native English speakers.
- Parents of undocumented students will be able to apply for an FSA ID. This will speed up the processing time for children of undocumented students, as they’ll be able to submit the form online, instead of having to print, sign and mail their application.
- The Department will upgrade its entire Federal Student Aid platform, adding tools that will allow students to import tax return information, as well as their personal and parental details as soon as they start the form. This will not only reduce the time spent filling out the form but will also improve the accuracy of the information provided.
- The expected family contribution (EFC), which determines your financial need based on your household income, family size and cost of attendance, will be replaced with the Student Aid Index (SAI). There will also be changes on how this component will be calculated.
- Those who qualify for a dependency override due to homelessness or not being able to access their parents’ financials, won’t have to recertify their dependency status each year, unless their situation changes.
- Students will be able to see if they qualify for the Pell Grant using their household income and family size before they even fill out the FAFSA.
- The Department of Education will be able to regulate all of the components of how schools come up with the cost of attendance, to expand students’ allowance for living expenses.
- Students whose schools closed or defrauded them will have their lifetime Pell Grant eligibility restored should they choose to go back to school.
- There will be a new formula to calculate students’ income protection allowance so that a larger portion of the students’ household income remains untouched. This will benefit low- and middle-income households by reducing the amount they’ll be expected to contribute toward college costs and increase the students’ financial aid.
The bottom line
The FAFSA Simplification Act will impact all college students, regardless of their income and financial situation. In some cases, students will see their financial aid increase substantially, while others may see a decrease in how much aid they may qualify for. If you have any questions on how this may change your situation this year or next, contact your school’s financial aid office, as they will be able to help crunch the numbers for you.