The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the gateway to getting federal student loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study for school, but there can be so much confusion around it.
The FAFSA® used to be a super long application that took a lot of time and effort—that’s now a thing of the past. The FAFSA® for the 2024-2025 academic year is the new and improved version. I asked 20+ year financial aid expert Ed Recker about these changes.
Here’s the breakdown.
Why is this year’s FAFSA® different?
Ed: This year’s FAFSA is different due to two congressional acts: the FAFSA® Simplification Act and the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act. The two acts combine to shorten and simplify the FAFSA®, update the underlying formulas, change some naming conventions, and make it easier to transfer financial information to the application.
What are the new changes to the FAFSA®? What should students expect?
Ed: The FAFSA® has several changes this year. Here’s what students should expect:
A new opening date
The opening of the 2024-25 FAFSA® has been delayed from its usual date of October 1 to “December 2023.” The U.S. Department of Education hasn’t announced an official open date yet, but don’t worry—the December open date is for the upcoming year only. The FAFSA® for future years will open on October 1.
The FAFSA® itself will be much shorter. It’s estimated to go from about 118 questions to about 36 questions for most users.
The FAFSA® is now role-based—the roles are either “student” and “parent.” Students will now only see questions relating to them, and parents will only see questions relating to them. Each will have to log in separately to complete their section of the FAFSA®.
Easier financial information retrieval
The old FAFSA® used to require families to compile a lot of their tax information to submit—not anymore. The FUTURE Act Direct Data eXchange (FADDX) is a huge reason why the FAFSA® is so much shorter. The U.S. Department of Education can access the majority of your financial information behind the scenes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) through the FADDX, and all you need to do is check a box. You won’t see any of this financial information in your FAFSA® at all or in your FAFSA® Submission Summary (formerly Student Aid Report).
More schools can be listed
Students can now list up to 20 schools on their FAFSA®, as opposed to the previous limit of 10.
No longer need to share where students will be living
The FAFSA® no longer asks what a student’s housing intentions are (on-campus, off-campus; with parent), so students will want to be intentional in making sure that various offices (admissions, financial aid; student housing) know their housing intentions.
Families with private entities must report their net worth
The net worth of small businesses and/or farms, for those who own such entities, must now be reported on the FAFSA®. They were previously exempt from reporting this so, although it will not impact everyone, it’s a big change for those that fall in these categories.
Having family members in college no longer matters
The number of members of your family in college is no longer factored into the federal formula, which could impact those students who have siblings in college at the same time.
New names for indexes and reports
There are a few naming changes. The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is now the Student Aid Index (SAI), and the Student Aid Report is now the FAFSA® Submission Summary.
What is the difference between the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the Student Aid Index (SAI)? What does this mean for students?
Ed: Both are index numbers that the U.S. Department of Education, state agencies, and colleges and universities use to determine what types of aid, and how much of that aid, a student is eligible for. However, due to the EFC’s name, people often confused it as the amount their college would cost, or how much they would have to come up with out-of-pocket in order to attend college. The naming convention change should help clear up some of that confusion. The big change is how the number will be calculated. Both are very detailed (and boring), so I’ll spare you, but it should mean additional free money for many FAFSA® filers who would not have been eligible for federal grants under the old formula.
When are the new opening and closing dates?
Ed: The specific open date for the 2024-25 FAFSA® has yet to be determined, but the U.S. Department of Education said that it will be sometime in December 2023. They have also stated this new date is for one year only, and the open date will revert back to October 1st for future years.
The closing date will be June 30, 2025, but you should file it much sooner than that. Some aid is first come, first served, and many states and schools have their own filing deadlines much earlier than this.
What is your advice to students applying for FAFSA® this year?
Ed: Pay attention to announcements and find out what the exact open date will be, and what state agencies and colleges/universities are doing with their own deadlines. We recommend that you complete the FAFSA® as early as possible.
Talk to your family about who needs to do what. Remember, the FAFSA® is now role based, so students and parents will have to log in and fill out their own questions.
Where can students go if they have additional questions about the FAFSA®?
Ed: Students can go to the official FAFSA® site to stay up to date on all things FAFSA®, get their FSA ID, and ultimately complete the FAFSA®. They can also check out Sallie Mae’s FAFSA® page, YouTube channel , and webinars page for helpful FAFSA® tips, tools, and resources.
As you start to think about submitting the FAFSA® this year, keep these things in mind:
Get an FSA ID
You need a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID before you start the FAFSA®. Unlike previous years, you can no longer start the FAFSA® without already having it. We recommend that you make your FSA ID at least 3-5 business days before you plan to apply, as your application has to be validated by the Social Security Administration, which can take some time. There is no open/close date on when you can get your FSA ID, so do it ASAP!
Apply as early as you can to get as much federal aid as you can! A lot of financial aid is first come, first served. You won’t want to leave any money on the table.
Apply even if you’re not sure you’ll get any aid
The FAFSA® is free, so there’s no harm in applying. You never know what kind of federal student loans, grants, or scholarships you could be eligible for.
Double-check any changes with your financial info
- If your financial situation has drastically changed, make a note and contact your financial aid office after you’ve submitted the FAFSA® to talk about completing a special circumstances application.
You can correct your mistakes after you submit
Complete the FAFSA® every year
- Make sure you apply each year you’re in school to renew your financial aid. The FAFSA® isn’t a one-and-done thing—make sure you don’t miss out on aid by forgetting to resubmit!
There may be a lot of new things about the FAFSA® this year, but don’t be intimidated! The whole process is going to be so much easier and less stressful: new doesn’t mean bad, and it’s definitely a good thing in this case! Just make sure you stay in the know and submit your FAFSA® this year.