If you are looking for money to attend college in September 2024 or later, you will be trying out a brand new FAFSA in December.
Lots of people have questions. This new FAFSA is quite different. Here are answers to some of the common questions we’ve been hearing.
Q: What is the FAFSA, exactly?
A: It stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You and your parents fill out this online form together to apply for financial help to go to college. The U.S. Department of Education uses the FAFSA to calculate how much federal help it can give you.
Q: Why do I need to fill it out?
A: The form is required for all kinds of financial aid. The federal government uses the FAFSA to determine whether you’re eligible for Pell Grants, student loans, and work-study. The form is also needed to get state grants and college money as well as many private scholarships.
Q: How does the new FAFSA work?
A: Go to FAFSA.gov. This online form will walk you and your parents through some questions about your family and your family’s finances. The FAFSA uses this information to determine how much you and your parents can contribute toward your college costs. This number is called the “Student Aid Index,” or SAI. Colleges will rely on your SAI to determine how much aid to offer.
Q: What kinds of questions does the FAFSA ask?
A: The FAFSA will ask some personal questions about you. The form will also ask about your parents and who you live with. There are questions to see if you are “dependent” on your parents. (Most high school students are, but there are exceptions.) You also will need to list the colleges you are applying to. One or both of your parents will need to answer similar personal and financial questions. If they make enough money, the FAFSA may also ask about your family’s assets, including bank accounts, second homes, businesses, and farms.
Q: Is the new FAFSA simpler to fill out?
A: It should be. In the past, families had to scour their tax forms to answer a lot of the questions on the FAFSA. Going forward, the FAFSA will ask you for permission to share your tax information from the IRS. Once you agree, all of your tax information will be filled in automatically. But you will need to work closely with at least one of your parents to complete the FAFSA as you’ll each need to enter information.
Q: Do I have to agree to share my tax information online?
A: Yes, if you want to get federal aid. The hope is that this data-sharing agreement with the Internal Revenue Service will make the FAFSA faster to fill out and more secure. All families, even those with parents who lack social security numbers, will be required to use the system. There will be very few exceptions. More information will be coming from the U.S. Department of Education over the summer, but families have been assured that all will have a safe pathway to fill out the FAFSA.
Q: When do I need to fill out the FAFSA?
A: This year, the FAFSA will open in December, which is much later than usual. For this reason, you should fill out the form as soon as possible, ideally in early January. A lot of financial aid is “first come, first served,” so submit your FAFSA as soon as you can. College deadlines for filing the FAFSA and submitting other financial aid information will vary. Also, this year it is very important to find out what each college needs from you and when they need it. If you are applying for “early action” or “early decision,” colleges will require you to submit your financial information in the fall, ahead of the rollout of the new FAFSA. Colleges may ask you to complete the CSS Profile or another type of form in the fall. And, you’ll still need to complete the FAFSA once it’s available.
Q: Once I’ve submitted my FAFSA, can I relax?
A: Not quite yet! You must monitor your email carefully. The folks at FAFSA will send an important document called the “FAFSA Submission Summary.” Look it over carefully. Make sure your FAFSA form was processed properly. Also, colleges may have questions about your FAFSA form after they have looked it over. Watch for those emails and respond to them as soon as you can.
And just a reminder…
All of these answers refer to the new FAFSA opening in December 2023. If you have questions about filling out this year’s FAFSA for college this fall, we’ve got all the help you need in our current guide. 🙂
Kim Nauer is the founder of UnderstandingFAFSA.org and a higher education expert at The New School. Her latest questions: How does anyone read a financial aid letter? And will this all-new FAFSA in the fall really be simpler?