By Stephen Smoot
For many families struggling to send children to college, applying for student aid has become a rite of passage.
Whether one seeks grants or loans, the first stop for most students lies with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
Jessica Freeman, guidance counselor at Lincoln High School, explained that “for families that have done this before, they will see differences.
One of the most significant changes involves setting up an identification. In the past, Freeman stated “you could do the FAFSA ID on the spot.” Now one must set this up three days prior to working on the form.
Additionally, the manner in which the online form accepts tax information has changed. Previously, applicants had the option to select an automatic population of information from the IRS 1040 form. They could choose to manually enter the information. Now, Freeman says “it has to do it itself. It will save families some time.” She also said that the program will automatically pull from the last available filing of the 1040.
Another change in the application comes in the fact that, as Freeman explains “now both parents or guardians have to create FAFSA IDs” instead of just one. She added that questions on the application can help students with different circumstances to establish who has to sign alongside the applicant, if necessary.
Changes have also occurred in the manner in which the federal government decides on distribution of aid.
Freeman shared that “if there is more than one student in college at the same time, it used to count. That will not play as a factor any longer.” Though the federal government no longer considers multiple children in college as a deciding indicator, many institutions will. “You will have to file for special circumstances,” she said.
Applicants have seen a delay this year in the starting date. Normally, the first date is Oct 1, but the site has not yet opened. Applications normally must be completed by Dec 30. Freeman shared that “they’re doing a complete overhaul of the website. It’s not ready yet.”
Many of these changes came as a result of the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2021. Changes have taken place yearly since then. For 2021-22, the federal government eliminated limitations on eligibility related to Selective Service registration and drug convictions, as well as subsidized usage limitations on eligibility.
In 2023-24 it enabled changes to the statutory definition of cost of attendance, professional judgment requirements, determination of independence, the application process for unaccompanied homeless youth and foster care youth. The ban on Pell Grant eligibility for confined or incarcerated applicants was also dropped.
Freeman said that since she has not yet seen the form, she could not say if the changes will make applying easier or not. To help her Lincoln High School families, she schedules FAFSA completion nights to give all the best chance possible to submit a successful application.