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  • Writer's pictureJenny Deren

Navigating the 2024-25 FAFSA Delay: What to Do While You Wait

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) would open by December 31, 2023. Typically, the FAFSA is available by October 1st for students applying for financial aid for the following academic year. However, improvements designed to streamline the application process and to expand eligibility for aid have delayed the release of the 2024-25 FAFSA by nearly three months.

The FAFSA redesign and delay has had some notable implications for high school students applying for Fall 2024 college enrollment. Applicants hoping to get an early estimate of how much financial aid they are likely to receive -- in order to determine the affordability of the colleges and universities they are considering -- have been thwarted by a dearth of student aid estimators updated with the new formula for calculating how much a student and family can afford to contribute for college. For many students, this means that the process of building a school list that accounts for financial fit alongside academic and social fit has involved some guesswork, as well as heightened uncertainty and anxiety around the actual affordability of the schools to which they're applying. (The good news here in November is that the new Federal Student Aid Estimator is finally live!)

The delayed FAFSA has also affected individual college and universities' ability to create financial aid packages to offer students admitted this fall under Early Action (EA), Early Decision (ED), and "rolling" admission plans. With the FAFSA not opening until December, colleges' deadlines for applying for federal financial aid have been extended into January and February, even though their EA and ED deadlines have not changed. Schools offering early admission may provide provisional financial aid packages to students admitted in the fall and later finalize those offers after students and families are able to complete and submit the FAFSA. In order to calculate provisional aid packages, some schools will use the CSS Profile, which is an application for non-federal financial aid operated by the College Board. However, no college or university will be able to determine an exact financial aid package that includes federal grants or loans before a 2024-25 FAFSA is filed -- which likely won't happen until January 2024 at the earliest.

You can't control when the updated FAFSA will open, but you can prepare for it. Here's what you can do NOW to navigate the 2024-25 FAFSA delay and get a head start on your financial aid application:

1. Know what's new.

You can review the changes to the new form so you know what to expect. This may be especially helpful if you have filed a FAFSA previously, either for yourself or for an older child. Changes include the later release date but also a shift in terminology, the need for a unique FSA ID for all contributors, and the requirement that all contributors consent to share tax information via data transfer from the IRS. 

The most controversial, and potentially the most impactful, differences between the old form and the new form involve changes to the methodology for determining how much money a family can afford to contribute for college. For example, the new formula no longer considers how many children a family will have in college at the same time; includes the value of businesses and family farms as parent assets; and requires that students with divorced or separated parents determine which parent provides the most financial support when deciding which parent’s information to report on the FAFSA.

2. Determine who will be a contributor.

In the new FAFSA, a “contributor” is anyone who is required to contribute their information to the application for federal student aid. The student is a contributor, and other contributors might include the student’s spouse, biological or adoptive parent(s), and/or a step-parent. In families in which the dependent student’s parents are divorced or separated, or in the case of students who may qualify as independent, determining who will contribute may take some time. While you wait for the 2024-25 FAFSA to roll out, you can prepare for it by determining your dependency status and determining who will be a contributor.

3. Prepare contributors: request information and explain "consent."

In order to invite contributors to their FAFSA, students will need each contributor’s legal name, date of birth, email address, and Social Security number. Each contributor will also need his or her own FSA ID (see below). 

Each contributor should also be aware that they will need to provide consent in order for their federal tax information to be transferred from the IRS to the FAFSA. If any contributor does not consent, then the applicant will not be eligible for federal student aid. Students should remind contributors that providing consent and sharing their information does not obligate the contributors to help pay for college. But consent from all contributors is required in order for the student to apply and be eligible for federal financial aid. Making sure that contributors are aware of this process may help you save time and potential complications later, when you're ready to fill out the form.

4. Create an FSA ID (all contributors).

The revamped FAFSA requires all contributors – even contributors without a Social Security number – to create their own account with Federal Student Aid (FSA). An FSA ID is the FSA account username and password, and each contributor will use their unique FSA ID to log in to the FAFSA and to sign it electronically. Unlike in past years, contributors will be unable to access any part of the FAFSA without an FSA ID. 

In order to create an FSA ID, each contributor will need a SSN and a unique email address. Contributors who do not have a SSN will also need to request an FSA ID and will need to have their identity verified in order to receive one. Because all FSA IDs need to be verified by the Social Security Administration (or, in the case of contributors without SSNs, by alternative means), contributors should create an FSA ID before they plan to fill out the FAFSA. I recommend leaving a buffer of several days to one week to ensure that your FSA ID has been verified by the time you're ready to fill out the form. 

Each contributor must create an account using his or her own email address because each email address can only be associated with one FSA ID. If any contributor does not have their own email address, now is a good time to create one! Contributors should consider using personal, permanent email accounts rather than school or work accounts, which may be disabled before or during the student’s college enrollment. 

When creating an FSA ID, be sure to enter your name and SSN exactly as they appear on your social security card!

5. Gather your documents.

In order to complete and submit your FAFSA, you will need the following information:

  • Name, date of birth, email address, and SSN for each contributor

  • Tax returns for the “prior-prior” year (that is, 2022 tax returns for the 2024-25 FAFSA)

  • Records of child support received

  • Current balances of cash, checking, and savings accounts

  • Net worth of investments, businesses, and farms

Even though each contributor’s tax information will be transferred electronically from the IRS after the contributor provides consent, you may want to consult tax returns in order to provide accurate information on the form. That said, if anything has changed since your 2022 tax returns (for example, the size of your household or the student or parent’s marital status), you should provide the updated information in the FAFSA.

6. Know the FAFSA submission deadlines for the schools you're apply to (or have applied to already).

In past years, most schools have required financial aid-seeking applicants to submit FAFSAs by or around the same time as the deadlines for which they are submitting their college applications. This enabled schools to “package” financial aid offers alongside acceptance letters, or in close proximity to them. 

This year, the 2024-25 FAFSA will roll out just before most schools’ Regular Decision deadlines, and one or more months after Early Action and Early Decision deadlines. Since financial aid consideration takes time on the colleges’ end, many schools have set FAFSA deadlines as early as January 2024. This means that – if the FAFSA is not released until December 31st – you may only have a couple of weeks to complete and submit your form. Knowing the specific FAFSA deadlines for financial aid consideration for each school you are applying to will keep you organized and help you submit your forms on time for maximum consideration and eligibility.

7. Use the Federal Student Aid Estimator to approximate your Student Aid Index (SAI).

In the 2024-25 FAFSA, the "Student Aid Index," or "SAI," has replaced the "Estimated Family Contribution," or "EFC," for short. Although the terminology has changed, the meaning of SAI/EFC is essentially the same: it’s a number that estimates a family’s ability to pay for college. It is not the exact number that a family will be required to contribute to the student’s college education. Federal Student Aid has changed the term from EFC to SAI in an attempt to avoid this confusion. The SAI is used by colleges and universities to determine a student’s financial need and the financial aid package that he or she will be offered. The actual amount of money that the student or family is expected to contribute may be more or less than the SAI. Furthermore, the amount of money the family is expected to contribute may be more or less at any given school; each school determines it's own financial aid offers, using either the FAFSA or the CSS Profile (more on this below), or both.

While an estimated SAI may not provide an exact financial aid picture, knowing your SAI in advance can give you a sense of about how much you or your family might pay – and give you a better understanding of how schools might consider your financial need and which schools might be more or less affordable.

8. Use net price calculators to estimate how much it will cost to attend specific colleges and universities.

The net price of college is the cost of attendance (minus) any grants, scholarships, and gift aid the student receives. Loans are not included in this calculation. Most colleges and universities publish the cost of attending their school on their financial aid websites. The cost of attendance includes tuition but also room and board, fees, books and materials, and even transportation costs. The exact cost of attendance might be different from one student to the next, but the cost of attendance listed on a school’s website is a good estimate for how much any given student might expect to spend each year at that school. 

Net price calculators can typically be found at college and universities’ financial aid office websites, and many are included in the College Board Net Price Calculator. The U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center can also connect you with individual schools’ calculators. 

Note that, while some schools specify that their net price calculator may be used to estimate the cost of attendance for the 2024-25 school year, many net price calculators do not reflect this year’s changes to the FAFSA formula for calculating students’ financial need. These calculators may still be useful in determining an estimated net price but may be less reliable than in previous or future years.

9. Complete the CSS Profile if you're applying to schools that use it.

The College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile is used by many schools to determine institutional (non-federal) financial aid. While the 2024-25 FAFSA is changing, the CSS Profile is not, and this year’s FAFSA changes have not affected the release date or college and university deadlines for applicants to complete the CSS Profile. The Profile opened, as usual, on October 1st of this year, and deadlines for completing it are typically around the time that college applications are due. Check the list of participating institutions and programs to determine whether you should complete the CSS Profile. Check with individual colleges and universities for specific CSS Profile deadlines.

If you do need to complete the CSS Profile, remember that you will also need to complete and submit the 2024-25 FAFSA when it is released in December.

10. Use the financial aid resources available to you!

If you have questions about the 2024-25 FAFSA, or about financial aid in general, ask your school counselor or check your school’s guidance, college, or postsecondary counseling web page for information and resources. 

You can also ask your local college access professionals, either in your school or in your community. For example, in Ohio, the Lake-Geauga Educational Assistance Foundation (LEAF) serves many high schools in Lake, Geauga, and nearby counties via in-school advising, informative presentations and webinars throughout the year, and a robust website full of helpful resources. Similar college access non-profit organizations may operate in your local community.

Additionally, Federal Student Aid offers a number of “official” resources on the 2024-25 FAFSA, including YouTube playlists on Preparing for the FAFSA Form and 2024-25 FAFSA FAQs

Finally, Amanda Miller’s Paying for College guide on the College Essay Guy website is an incredible (and free!) resource for understanding college affordability. Even though its FAFSA-specific information is a bit out of date as we await the 2024-25 form, the guide describes several common FAFSA mistakes that are still relevant this year.

The federal government, like individual colleges and universities, has a limited amount of money dedicated to student financial aid. Once the money is doled out to deserving and qualified recipients, it’s gone. That’s why, in any given year, college admission, financial aid, and counseling professionals advise students to submit their financial aid applications as early as possible. Submitting early is one of the best ways for an applicant to maximize his or her financial aid award. Even though the 2024-25 FAFSA is delayed, you’ll still want to submit your application as early as you can – which is why you should begin preparing now, even before the application is released!

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