What Now? (And What’s Next?) With the FAFSA – Scholarship America

What Now? (And What’s Next?) With the FAFSA

By Matt Konrad

When the U.S. Department of Education announced the launch of the “Better FAFSA” for the 2024-25 school year, it was cause for optimism. The revised form would be simpler to fill out, more accessible to first-generation students and more likely to get aid into the hands of students in need.

Unfortunately, technical complications led to long delays in application availability and processing, and the triumphant rollout of the Better FAFSA turned into a months-long fiasco.

As a result, colleges had to delay their financial aid offers; students have been left without the information they need to make life-changing decisions; and FAFSA completions dropped by 12% over last year—that’s more than 200,000 members of the Class of 2024 alone missing out completely on federal aid.

Despite this year’s issues, the FAFSA is still a vital part of the financial aid process, and the delays have resulted in a process that should be smoother for students and families. As outlined by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the positive changes include “streamlining and simplifying the FAFSA by obtaining the applicant’s income information directly from the IRS, removing complex income questions, and shortening the application [and c]hanges to Pell Grant eligibility criteria, including new automatic maximum/minimum Pell Grants based on federal poverty guidelines.”

To keep students on track despite this year’s delays—and to prepare them for the 2025-26 FAFSA opening, which could be as soon as October 1—here are some helpful tools and answers to big questions.

This year’s delays aren’t quite over.

While more than 11 million students have completed applications for the 2024-25 FAFSA, many of them still haven’t received their final financial aid packages due to delays in the correction system.

As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, “the Education Department announced that colleges would not be able to submit corrections to students’ FAFSA records in bulk until the first half of August — not the end of June, as the department had previously said. Further delaying that process, which is normally available when the FAFSA goes live, means that some students with special circumstances — such as a parent who lost their job — must continue to wait for a final financial-aid offer.

For advisors, counselors and mentors, the best advice you can give students is not to get discouraged. Their colleges’ financial aid offices are here to help even if they can’t do anything right now, and it’s important to stay informed and connected. This toolkit from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) provides materials for both professionals and students that can offer guidance and troubleshooting ideas. And NCAN also provides this state-by-state map and listing of local resources and events, so you can connect students with relevant information right in their backyard.

The good news: FAFSA changes should benefit students in need.

Among students who didn’t fill out a FAFSA, the most commonly cited reasons in recent years have been not knowing how to fill it out and not thinking they’d qualify for any aid.

Fortunately, the new form does address these concerns. This article from NerdWallet outlines many of the details for students and families, including two major changes for accessibility:

  • More languages: “In recent years, the FAFSA was available in English and Spanish only. The new FAFSA is available in the 11 most common languages spoken in the U.S., making it accessible to a greater number of students and their families.”
  • Fewer questions: “The new FAFSA contains significantly fewer questions. Some students will only have to answer 18 questions on the new form, depending on their circumstances; the 2023-24 FAFSA included up to 103 questions.”

Along with those front-end changes, updates to income calculations and Pell Grant eligibility make it more likely that students in need will receive federal aid. The U.S. Department of Education released state-by-state data “showing that the simplified, streamlined, and redesigned 2024–25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form will help 610,000 new students from low-income backgrounds receive Federal Pell Grants. The new FAFSA form will also help 1.5 million more students receive the maximum Pell Grant – bringing the total number of students eligible for the maximum Pell Grant amount to more than 5.2 million.”

Now is the time to prepare for the 2025-26 FAFSA.

The Federal Student Aid office is “working toward” opening the 2025-26 application on the usual October 1 opening date, and has promised that there will be few to no changes to complicate the next cycle. While that date is certainly not set in stone, students should start preparing now to ensure they’re not leaving money on the table.

Among the early preparations students and families can do today:

  • Create a required Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID on the studentaid.gov website if they haven’t already. This username and password is required to log in and access all Federal Student Aid websites, including the FAFSA. uAspire has an easy guide to creating  an FSA ID, even if the student or their parent or guardian don’t have a Social Security Number.
  • For students who have completed a FAFSA before, they can review the Department of Education’s guide to updating information such as income or life changes. Remind these students that they have to update and submit their FAFSA every year to continue receiving aid.
  • Finally, most private scholarships, such as those administered by Scholarship America, don’t require students to complete a FAFSA—and the summer is a great time to prepare for scholarship application season as well. As you help students get ready for October 1 (and hope the FAFSA opens on schedule), remind them that private scholarships are a great option to help pay for college, too!

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