The Changing FAFSA: How to Help Your Prospective Students Keep Up

For years, October was the key month on the higher ed enrollment calendar when it came to student financial aid. That’s when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened, and students and their families typically had two months to meet most college priority deadlines.

FAFSA Changes

The FAFSA timeline will be different this year.

But that won’t be the case for 2023-24, according to the long-awaited timeline for the new FAFSA deployment released earlier this month by the Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA). This year, the FAFSA release date will be in December, creating challenges both for students to complete applications in a timely manner and for financial aid staffs to process them efficiently.

In the meantime, the FSA plans to communicate information to help parents and students understand the changes. In addition, FSA will provide information to financial aid offices and other stakeholders to help them prepare.

So, what’s changing? And how can you help your prospective students with this moving timeline?

The Changes

The new FAFSA is designed to be shorter, simpler, and clearer for applicants. The number of questions has been reduced by more than 60 percent, from 100 to about 38, and several changes have been made to avoid past confusion.

For example, Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is now Student Aid Index (SAI). EFC was confusing to families because it was often thought of as the amount a family should be able to contribute. FSA hopes that SAI will clarify that this is not money they need to pay, but a number used to assess financial need.

Also new to the FAFSA, Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and SAI now will determine eligibility for Pell Grant award amounts. And students and families will be able to estimate their eligibility for the grant before they complete the FAFSA. The maximum award is $7,395 for the 2023-24 award year, and award amounts can change yearly.

Additional amendments include a reduction in the Pell Grant award amount for students who are not enrolled full time, meaning students enrolled less-than-half time will not be eligible to receive the grant. The new application also establishes a minimum award amount for full-time enrollment, which is $750 for the 2023-24 award year.

Other changes to the FAFSA include the elimination of discounts for having multiple children in college. Also, new legislation requires the parent who provided the most financial support in the “prior-prior” tax year to complete the FAFSA, instead of the custodial parent.

FAFSA Changes

The new FAFSA is designed to be shorter, simpler, and clearer for applicants.

The term “prior-prior” means that the financial aid system requires parents to submit their two-year tax returns instead of their most recent ones. For example, the class of 2023 (seniors) were required to submit their 2021 income tax information. Current juniors or rising seniors will use their 2022 tax return. Thus, the parent who provided the most support in 2022 will be required to complete the FAFSA for the 2024-25 award year.

The new FAFSA also eliminates financial consequences for contributions made by others, such as grandparents contributing funds to a college plan. These are no longer considered students’ untaxed income. Also, income protections the new FAFSA formula raises both student and parent income protection, however it will no longer factor “number in college” for the parent allowance.

 How Can You Help Your Prospective Students?
  • Communicate early! Let parents and students know the FAFSA will release in December. Communicate timelines for priority consideration and other deadlines and let parents and students know they can prepare ahead of time by gathering tax info.
  • Plan events: At my previous institution, we would hold a “FAFSA Frenzy” event in October (this year may need to be prior to holiday break). Parents and students were invited to our computer lab to mingle with financial aid staff and receive assistance while they filed their FAFSA. We saw a more than 30 percent increase in FAFSA submissions prior to priority deadline when we held these.
  • Utilize dynamic content and ad hoc emails: Communicate to students on your financial aid web pages, your future and current student pages, and send out emails dedicated to FAFSA messaging.
  • Plan ahead! Financial aid teams have timelines that will need to shift. Use data from last year to approximate the amount of FAFSA’s per day each team member will need to process in order to make the shorter deadlines.

If you’d like a sneak peek of the new FAFSA, the FSA released this power point outlining the application changes complete with helpful screenshots.

By Cat Hollands, Capture Client Trainer, Capture Higher Ed