The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, typically opens on Oct. 1, but this year families will have to wait until December.
The form — which uses parents’ income and a litany of other information to determine a student’s need for financial aid — is being updated, and hopefully, simplified. However, implementing those changes means students and families will not be able to apply for aid for the 2024-25 school year until December 2023.
A specific date has not been announced for the December release, but the Department of Education has been communicating with families who filed the FAFSA last year to make sure they know when the application will open, Karen McCarthy, vice president of public policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, tells CNBC Make It.
“[The Department of Education] is concerned that once October comes around, people will start looking for the FAFSA,” McCarthy says. “They want to make sure that everybody who filled it out last year is aware of the delay, and once they have an exact date in December of when it will be available, they’ll be emailing those people again to let them know.”
The FAFSA changes aim to streamline the process, deliver more aid to students and give users an enhanced experience filling out the form, according to the Department of Education. But the change in schedule could have some families concerned about what it means for their student’s financial aid package.
Here’s what you need to know about the new FAFSA rollout and how you can be prepared when it’s available in December.
There may be at least three different deadlines you need to keep track of when you’re filing the FAFSA:
- The federal deadline: Typically June 30 of the year you receive aid. For the 2023-2024 school year, the deadline is June 30, 2024, for example.
- Your state deadline: May be earlier than the federal deadline
- Your institution’s deadline: May be earlier than both state and federal deadlines
So far, the Department of Education has not announced an extension of its deadline, despite pushing back the opening date. This gives families a slightly shorter window to apply, and if your institution doesn’t push back its deadline, you may have even less time. And though you can apply for aid throughout the school year, you’ll want to apply as soon as possible.
Some institutions and states have multiple deadlines. One is typically an earlier “priority deadline,” which gives applicants the best shot at maximizing their financial aid packages because some aid is delivered on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the Department of Education.
“If I were a family [applying for aid], I would definitely be paying close attention to any priority deadlines set by the institution or by their state,” McCarthy says. “If that entity didn’t change the deadline, that window of completion to make sure that you meet that deadline is a lot smaller.”
The good news is, the new FAFSA still allows you to import your income information directly from the Internal Revenue Service, which may save you time in applying.
In addition to having your tax returns handy if you don’t use the IRS retrieval tool, you’ll need your Social Security number or alien registration number, bank statements, records of your family’s investments and your federal student aid ID.
The changes to the FAFSA are primarily aimed at providing more aid to students by revising the calculation used to determine eligibility. For some families, that could mean larger financial aid awards, while others may not see a drastic change in what they receive.
“Whenever Congress is tweaking at all with a formula-based system like this, there are always going to be people who don’t end up seeing increased eligibility,” McCarthy says. “The formula does increase financial aid and Pell Grant eligibility broadly, but that doesn’t mean that every student who completed a FAFSA will see a bump up in their own individual financial aid eligibility.”
If you’ve filled out the FAFSA in the past, you may be familiar with the expected family contribution, or EFC, which was used to determine how much aid you should receive. The new FAFSA replaces the EFC with the student aid index, or SAI, and changes the formula used to calculate it.
The Department of Education is rolling out a revised financial aid estimator that will use the new SAI calculation and allow you to see an estimate of your aid eligibility.
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