The application for getting federal financial aid has changed for 2024-2025. Here’s how to fill it out.
College tuition is a hefty sum for many students and their families in America: Average yearly tuition at a private university totals $42,162; $23,630 for public out-of-state tuition; and $10,662 for public in-state tuition. It’s no surprise, then, that over 85 percent of undergraduates are awarded some form of financial aid — including federal aid, state and local grants and scholarships, institutional grants and scholarships, and student loans — according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The path to receiving money for college is through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is a form students and/or their parents complete to apply for federal grants, work-study funds, and loans. Many states and colleges also use this application to determine students’ eligibility for state and school financial aid, too. As the name says, it is completely free to submit the application.
The FAFSA form usually opens for the following academic year on October 1 — students must complete the form each year — but the 2024-25 FAFSA form will be available by December 31, 2023, due to changes in the application. That means if you are planning on attending college and want to receive financial aid for fall 2024 and spring 2025 semesters, this is the form you will complete. The Federal Student Aid office has a webpage dedicated to announcements related to the simplified FAFSA that you can check regularly for any updates. The federal deadline to complete the 2024-25 FAFSA is June 30, 2025, though each college and state has its own deadline (just a heads up, this link includes 2023-24 FAFSA deadlines; 2024-25 deadlines haven’t been posted yet) by which they need students to complete the form. Even though the federal deadline falls after the school year ends, financial aid funds can be applied retroactively to what you already paid that year for tuition.
If you have not previously applied for financial aid, create a Federal Student Aid ID, so you’re ready to start the application as soon as it goes live. “What parents and students can do now,” says Dean Bentley, the executive director of financial aid engagement at the College Board, “is to create a Federal Student Aid ID or FSA ID. The FSA ID is used to sign the FAFSA; it’ll be required for all students and parents or guardians who provide information on the FAFSA.”
The changes to the FAFSA include a direct transfer of tax information from the IRS to the FAFSA form, increased eligibility for need-based grants, and the elimination of a discount for families with multiple children in college. The application will also be more streamlined, offering an easier experience.
There is no income cut-off to be eligible for federal student aid, so all college students are encouraged to apply. The earlier you complete the form the better because some aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Whether it’s your first time applying for financial aid or you’re well-practiced, here’s a primer on how to complete the FAFSA, including tips for the new 2024-25 form.
If you’re a dependent student — which is any student who is under 24; is not married and does not have legal dependents; is not a graduate or professional student; is not a veteran nor a member of the armed forces, or is not an emancipated minor — your parent or step-parent will need to create an FSA ID too so they can add their information to the form as a “contributor.”
If you’re married, your spouse will also need to create an FSA ID. You’ll need a Social Security number to get an FSA ID right now, but those without Social Security numbers will soon be able to create an FSA ID without one, “probably right around the time the FAFSA opens,” says MorraLee Keller, the senior director of strategic programming at the National College Attainment Network.
Contributors are one of the new features of the 2024-25 form. Anyone who will provide tax and personal information to your FAFSA form should be listed as a contributor. Contributors are determined by your dependency status, marital status, and tax filing status. (For example, a contributor for a student under the age of 24 will be their parent. Married students’ contributors will be their spouses.) Contributors, despite the name, are not expected to contribute money to your tuition, just information to your FAFSA form. Make sure the student and any contributors have their FSA ID ready to go before the application opens, Keller says.
Contributors will receive an email informing them that they need to complete information for the student’s FAFSA. Contributors should try to complete their portion sooner rather than later. If there is no activity on a FAFSA for 45 days, the form is deleted and you’ll have to start again, Keller says. Should your contributors need more time, a student can log into their FAFSA form to reset the 45-day window.
The student’s FSA ID should be the one used to start the application as they are the one applying for the financial aid. If you’re filling out the FAFSA on behalf of your child, make sure to select “I am a parent filling out a FAFSA form for a student.”
The FAFSA requires students and their parents to enter a host of personal information. Here’s what you should have readily available:
As a part of the new FAFSA form, you’ll then need to provide consent and approval to import your federal tax information directly from the IRS. Your family’s 2022 taxes must be completed before you can import the tax information. If you are a non-tax filer, there will be a code that the IRS will fill in that indicates you don’t have a tax return on file, Keller says. “The parts that people may have had anxiety about in the past [like] making sure they’re putting in the right numbers,” she says, “that is going to be alleviated with this process.”
Further along in the form, the student or their parents can add up to 20 colleges or career schools that will receive your information. If you already know where you’re attending college — say, you’re a rising junior and have attended the same school since freshman year — add that college to the form. If you’re still in high school and have not committed to a college yet, add any school you applied to or plan on applying to.
If a dependent student is filling out the form on their own, they’ll be prompted to fill in their parents’ full names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and email addresses so they can fill in their information separately. If the student’s parents are divorced or separated, the parent the student lived with more during the last year will need to fill out their portion of the FAFSA. If the student spent equal time with each parent, the one who provides most financial support should fill out the FAFSA.
Parent contributors will need their tax returns, records of child support received, current balances of cash, savings, and checking accounts, and net worth of investments, businesses, and farms. “Families that have income above $60,000 will need to report assets like cash savings, checking, real estate, stocks, bonds, and the net value of their small business or family farm,” Keller says. “While that sounds complicated, there’s a lot of instructions to help families understand,” Bentley says. “There’s even an overview video that they’ll be able to watch when they start the application.”
A dependent student’s FAFSA form is not completed until their parent (and other contributors) completes their section.
Again, the earlier you apply after the application opens the better. However, there are some deadlines worth keeping in mind. Each school has a different deadline for when you need to submit your FAFSA form, so check with your school (or the schools you applied to) to see when you need to submit your application for financial aid. Every state has a different deadline, too: For example, last year’s deadline to be considered for financial aid for the 2023-24 school year at a college in Maine was May 1, 2023. (Expect updated deadlines to be announced once the 2024-25 FAFSA form rolls out.) Federally, June 30 is the last day you can apply for financial aid for the upcoming school year.
After you and your contributors have finalized and sent off your FAFSA form, the Office of Federal Student Aid will review your information and it will be shared with the schools you listed. Because of the delayed rollout of the 2024-25 FAFSA, schools will not receive the FAFSA information until the end of January. This will most impact incoming first-year college students who perhaps are waiting to receive financial aid offers from multiple schools before making a decision. Bentley suggests staying on top of communications from each school (including whether or not the school sends messages via mail, email, or text), reaching out to the schools’ financial aid offices proactively, and checking each school’s financial aid website for updates.
Students should receive an email indicating that their FAFSA has been processed and sent to the listed colleges. You can log in to your Federal Student Aid account and check to see if you need to take any further action with your form.
Then, you’ll receive a FAFSA Submission Summary, which includes a Student Aid Index, a new term, which determines how much financial aid you could receive. Schools will use this number to create your financial aid offer.
Your college may reach out if they need additional documentation or information.
“The student,” Keller says, “will be waiting on the award notification to let them know how much financial aid they will have for next year, whether that’s federal and state aid, as well as institutional aid. So that award notification would be the primary document that the student is waiting on to receive after they file their FAFSA.”
The Federal Student Aid office released a prototype of the new FAFSA application process so users can walk through the application process with mock names and scenarios. You can complete the application from the vantage point of both a student and a parent to get a feel for the questions that will be asked and the information needed.
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