Finally, the FAFSA is Ready
We’ve been waiting for the “new and improved” Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for a long time and it’s officially been released within the last two weeks.
Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for need-based aid, there is no downside to filling out the form. And you just may be surprised with a gift of aid. I strongly recommend that all my high school senior families complete the FAFSA form. I also strongly encourage families to check out each college’s Net Price Calculator – required by law to be available on every college’s website. Go to the search box on any college’s homepage and type “Net Price Calculator” into the Search Box and you’ll be taken to that college’s specific form.
The FAFSA is a form that has been around for a long time that determines families’ eligibility for federal grants (money you don’t have to pay back), work-study (where the student has a federally funded job on campus), low-interest student loans, and some scholarships. There have been some minor changes over the years and different release dates, but this year’s changes reflect a giant overhaul of the form. Many of the families that I work with assume that they won’t qualify for any aid and choose not to fill out the FAFSA. Many other families, who did complete the FAFSA, have been pleasantly surprised with generous aid packages.
The FAFSA is now available in both English and Spanish at https://fafsa.ed.gov
Here are a few important things to know about the 2024-25 FAFSA
You’ll want to start filling it out as soon as it becomes available. For 2024-25, the FAFSA itself was supposedly simplified. The new application makes it easier to import income data from tax records. The Department of Education has also changed its formula to determine which students will qualify for aid and how much they will receive. This change expanded eligibility for federal student aid.
How the FAFSA works
Filing the FAFSA will generate a federal Student Aid Index (SAI). If you’ve completed the FAFSA in past years with older siblings, the new SAI is the same as the old EFC (Expected Family Contribution. The product of the FAFSA is the SAI/EFC and it delineates how much the government thinks the family can afford to pay toward the student’s cost of attendance. I have been known to tell families that you may not agree with the government’s assessment, but that is what the colleges will base their aid on. One of the first things a family should do is calculate the total COA (Cost of Attendance) – this includes tuition plus room and board, books, supplies, transportation, miscellaneous expenses, and fees. So, the formula is: Cost of Attendance minus Student Aid Index minus Other Financial Assistance equals Financial Need.
Be aware that not all aid is “Free Money.” Much of the aid given to students is in the form of loans and parent loans. Read through any award letters carefully to determine what percentage of the award is in the form of loans and how much will be grants, where the money does not need to be paid back.
NEXT COLUMN – FAFSA – Part II