Applying for financial aid for the 2024-25 school year?
Get ready for some important changes. You’ll be completing the redesigned FAFSA, launching in late December. Need to know now how much federal aid you may receive? Try the Federal Student Aid Estimator.
You can use this tool, along with a college net price calculator, to get a real sense of how much aid you may receive.
The EFC has been replaced by the SAI
In years past, the FAFSA collected information to calculate a number called the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. This number was used to determine how much federal aid a student was eligible to receive in Pell Grants and lower-cost loans. The EFC calculation has been eliminated.
The redesigned FAFSA uses a new calculation called the Student Aid Index, or SAI, to determine how much aid you may be eligible to receive. The good news? More low-income students are expected to receive financial aid under this new calculation – and awards may be bigger too.
Everyone who completes the new FAFSA will receive a personalized SAI. On its own, the SAI doesn’t give much guidance on how much federal aid a student may receive. The one thing to know is that the lower the SAI, the more federal aid you are likely to get. The SAI can go as low as -1,500!
How do I figure out how much aid I might get?
You won’t know for sure how much aid you’ll get until a college sends you an official financial aid package. But using the following tools, you can get realistic estimates that will help you figure out which colleges you can afford and which ones are generous with aid.
First: Start with the Federal Student Aid Estimator
Your best bet for figuring out your eligibility for federal aid is to use the Federal Student Aid Estimator. It’s simple and quick to use. (Seriously, it takes no more than two minutes to complete.) And it gives you clear information about how much and what types of federal aid you’re likely to receive under the new FAFSA SAI calculation.
Example: An unmarried undergraduate student applying for aid for the sophomore year in college. The student entered the following information in the Federal Student Aid Estimator:
The student resides in New York, earned $1,000 in 2022, and lives with married parents who file taxes. The student is part of a family of five with a household income of $75,000 in 2022. The family currently has $10,000 in assets. There are no special circumstances that might allow the student to file independently from the student’s parents.
Based on the information submitted, the student is estimated to receive a total of $15,876 in federal aid as follows:
- Estimated Federal Pell Grant: $7,395
- Maximum Federal Direct Loans: $6,500
- Average Federal Work-Study Allotment: $1,981
- Estimated Student Aid Index: -322
Keep in mind that the Federal Aid Estimator only offers guidance on federal grants and loans. Also, it is for personal use only. It’s not an official application and colleges do not see your results. If you’re unsure how to answer any of the questions in the estimator tool, give your best guess. If you realize you answered a question incorrectly, just start over. The more accurate the information you provide, the more reliable your federal aid estimate will be.
Next: Use the net price calculator for each college you’re applying to
There’s a lot more to the financial aid puzzle than federal aid. College aid, state grants, and private scholarships are additional sources of aid that may increase the total amount of money you’ll get to pay for college.
Colleges are required to have a net price calculator on their website. They are easy to use, and help you determine the full range of need- and merit-based aid you may be eligible to receive at a given college. Like the Federal Aid Estimator, a net price calculator is for personal use only. These are not official applications for aid. Colleges don’t see your results.
Word of caution: While the Federal Aid Estimator has been updated to reflect the new calculations on the FAFSA, it’s not clear which colleges, if any, have updated their net price calculators. Read the fine print. Check each college’s website to see if their net price uses the latest FAFSA calculation methods. If you can’t determine this from the college’s website, email or call the financial aid office to ask if their net price calculators are up to date. But, even if the calculator is not updated, it’s still worth using to get a sense of which schools are likely to be generous with aid.
Last: Know that your SAI doesn’t tell the whole story
The Federal Aid Estimator and net price calculators are designed to offer guidance – not final decisions. Don’t despair if your estimated SAI seems high and it doesn’t look like you’ll qualify for much federal aid. Yes, colleges use your SAI as a starting point to determine how much need-based aid to offer. However, colleges have the flexibility to look beyond the SAI, especially for scholarships funded from their endowments. Some colleges will ask for additional information or require you to complete the CSS Profile to get a fuller sense of your financial need. Be sure to watch for these requests.
Also, the FAFSA relies on information from two-year-old tax information on file with the IRS. (For the 2024-25 school year, this will be your family’s 2022 tax returns.) This information is old. If your family’s finances have recently changed for the worse, speak up! Colleges will consider extenuating circumstances such as a parent losing a job or high medical bills from an illness in the family. If these financial problems are serious and not reflected on your FAFSA or CSS Profile, let colleges know as soon as possible – even before you have been admitted. You can also appeal for more aid once you have received your admissions offers and financial aid letters. Colleges want to know your family’s true financial situation.
Miya Campbell is studying fashion management at the Parsons School of Design, making the most of the marketing and writing experience she got as an undergraduate at Southern New Hampshire University. As a first-generation and low-income student, Miya is passionate about helping others with the FAFSA.