Financial aid for college in chaos amid new FAFSA

The FAFSA form was overhauled at the end of 2023.

April 16, 2024, 4:27 PM

At the end of 2023, the federal government said it would update the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, better known as FAFSA, ahead of the 2024-2025 school year. The change came three years after Congress mandated the update in 2020.

But four months since the changes went into effect, the updated form has brought on more hiccups and some headaches for colleges, administrators and parents.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is an online form used by schools, colleges and universities -- and sometimes, private scholarship programs -- to determine a student's eligibility to receive federal financial aid, which may include grants, loans, scholarships and work-study program funds. Multiple states also use the FAFSA form to figure out the amount of state financial aid a student can receive as well.

A student needs to file a FAFSA form each school year they wish to receive financial aid.

What changes were made to the FAFSA form?

A group of college students walk on their university campus in a stock image.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The FAFSA previously asked students and their parents hundreds of questions to determine eligibility for federal financial aid, loans and work-study programs.

The revamped form is now simplified to include fewer than 50 questions -- down from more than 100 questions -- adds space to list up to 20 colleges instead of limiting it to 10 schools, and improves access by offering the form in 11 languages instead of only in English and Spanish.

To fill out the FAFSA, students and parents have to consent to allow information from the IRS to be imported into the FAFSA online form.

In addition, the FAFSA now features the Student Aid Index (SAI) in lieu of the Expected Family Contribution. The index will utilize a different formula to determine a student family's qualification for aid, expand the number of students eligible for aid, and not shut out students and families who are not required to file federal income taxes.

What problems have students and parents encountered since the FAFSA was updated?

Unlike in past years, where students could start filling out the FAFSA in October, access to the new form was delayed until January as the federal government completed the form's update. This, in turn, impacts when students will find out what financial aid packages they can receive for the upcoming school year and ultimately, their decisions on which schools to attend in the fall. The shaky rollout has also pushed multiple colleges and universities to extend their enrollment deadlines.

Even after students and families were able to submit their FAFSA forms, many reported encountering bugs and technical glitches during the process. Data from the Department of Education shows applications this year are down nearly 60% from past years.

What can parents do?

The Department of Education encourages all students considering college to submit a FAFSA form, even if they don't think they'll be eligible or qualify for financial aid, and to apply for scholarships as early as possible in their high school career.

Parents can use the department's online tools like the College Scorecard and the Federal Student Aid Estimator to get a better idea of future financial costs and the type of financial aid for which a student may qualify.

Parents can also consider college savings plans, some of which are state-sponsored, and other programs that may be available such as prepaid tuition plans.

Can I still fill out a FAFSA form?

The deadline to complete and submit a FAFSA form for the 2024-2025 school year is 11:59 p.m. CT on June 30, 2025. Corrections or updates may be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 14, 2025. Individual states, colleges and schools have their own deadlines. To see what the deadline is for each state, visit the website.

Related Topics