A new version of the federal student aid application known as the FAFSA is available for the 2024-2025 school year, but only on a limited basis as the U.S. Department of Education works on a redesign meant to make it easier to apply.
That means the Free Application for Federal Student Aid students can usually fill out starting in October isn't yet available to everyone.
Since the soft launch was announced, there has been limited availability and some students and their families have experienced glitches.
“Even by soft launch standards, this weekend’s rollout was challenging and students, families, and financial aid administrators who have been waiting for this release for months are understandably frustrated," said Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the department hopes to keep the application open for longer stretches as it resolves issues with the new form.
As of 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the department had received over half a million successful submissions, according to a spokesperson. Every year, more than 17 million students fill out the FAFSA, which uses financial information from students and their families to determine whether they can get financial aid from the federal government to pay for college.
The relaunch brings major changes such as fewer questions, the ability to list more colleges and availability in more languages. However, the update means students will get their financial aid offers later than usual.
Here's what you need to know:
HOW DOES THE FAFSA WORK?
The FAFSA is a free government application that uses financial information from you and your family to determine whether you can get financial aid from the federal government to pay for college.
The FAFSA will send your financial information to the schools you say you are interested in attending. It previously only allowed you to send your information to 10 schools, but the new application will allow you to send your application to up to 20. Each school that admits you will send you a financial aid package. The amount of financial aid you get depends on each institution.
The application is also used to determine eligibility for other federal student aid programs, like work-study and loans, as well as state and school aid. Sometimes, private, merit-based scholarships also require FAFSA information to determine if you qualify.
WHEN WILL THE 2024-2025 FAFSA BE AVAILABLE?
The Education Department announced a soft launch period in late December.
“During the soft launch, the FAFSA form will be available to students and families periodically while we monitor site performance and form functionality,” according to the department website.
The Department of Education did not initially say when or for how long the application would be available. But the department announced on its social media Thursday that the application would be opened Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
WHO SHOULD FILL OUT THE FAFSA?
Anyone planning to attend college next year. Both first-time college students and returning students can apply for the FAFSA. Many decide not to apply thinking their family’s income is too high to be considered, but all students are advised to fill out the application.
Students and parents can use the federal student aid estimator to get an early approximation of their financial package.
WHAT ARE THE KEY CHANGES FOR THE NEW FAFSA?
In general, the relaunch of the application is meant to make the process smoother for students and their families. The Education Department also said the relaunch will increase eligibility for financial aid for low- and middle-income students.
“Most students and families will be able to complete the process in less time and we’ll see more students qualify for need-based aid,” Draeger said.
Here are the key changes:
— FSA IDs
Starting this year, everyone who needs to provide information for the FAFSA must create an FSA ID.
In previous years, only the student and one parent needed to have an FSA ID. For the 2024-2025 form, anyone who needs to provide information, such as the student’s spouse, biological or adoptive parent, or the parent’s spouse, must have an individual FSA ID.
To create an FSA ID, contributors need their Social Security number and email address.
— Student Aid Index
The new FAFSA will replace the Expected Family Contribution with a different formula called the Student Aid Index that will help determine the amount that each student can receive in financial aid.
Both formulas consider the income and assets of the student and their parents and include both taxed and untaxed income. But unlike the old formula, the new one won't benefit families with multiple students in college. The new formula will allow students from families that are not required to file federal income taxes to automatically be considered for a high financial aid amount.
— IRS Data Retrieval Tool
The updated FAFSA will include fewer questions, which will make the application quicker to fill out. However, all contributors must give their consent for their IRS information to be directly imported into the FAFSA.
In previous years, it was optional to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Now, if a contributor doesn't consent to having their information imported, the student will not be eligible for financial aid.
— More languages available
The FAFSA will be available in the 11 most common languages. Previously it was only available in English and Spanish.
— More eligibility for Federal Pell Grants
In the 2024-2025 award year, more students will be eligible to receive a federal Pell Grant. According to the Education Department, an estimated 610,000 new students will be eligible for a grant. It will also allow 1.5 million more students to receive the maximum Pell Grant award, which will bring the number of students who are eligible for the maximum award to over 5.2 million. The maximum federal Pell Grant award available last year was $7,395.
WHAT CAN I DO WHILE I WAIT TO FILL OUT MY APPLICATION?
While you wait to fill out the FAFSA, make sure that you create an FSA ID for yourself and all contributors.
When you create your FSA ID, it will take one to three days for your information to be confirmed. So, it’s important that every contributor creates their FSA ID before the student starts filling out the application.
WHEN CAN I EXPECT TO KNOW MY FINANCIAL AID AWARD?
Since the process has been delayed this year, students will begin to receive their offers later than usual. If a student fills out the application as soon as it's available, their listed colleges won't receive their information until potentially the end of January, Draeger said.
“There will be a bit of a gap and potentially delay so we ask for a little bit of patience,” Draeger said.
In previous years, colleges would get information about students shortly after they started submitting the FAFSA in October. That meant students would receive their financial aid awards along with their acceptance letters in January.
Draeger recommends that students regularly check their desire college's website for new relevant deadlines.