Policy Update: “Better FAFSA” Opens in December 2023
By Matt Konrad
While the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) typically opens for applications on October 1, the application for the 2024-25 school year has been delayed until sometime in December—a delay that could have ripple effects on students, families and scholarship programs.
Here’s what we know so far—along with a few other federal policy updates that will impact students in the coming year.
Why is the FAFSA late?
In 2020, the Department of Education (DoE) authorized the most sweeping changes to the FAFSA since it moved online in 1997. Many of those changes are going into effect on the application for 2024-25 aid, and implementing them is taking slightly longer than expected.
According to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN),
The Better FAFSA promises to:
- Decrease application times
- Increase the number of applicants and the proportion of complete applications.
- Increase the number of students receiving Pell Grants.
- Increase available time that students, parents, school counselors, and advisors can spend on other important aspects of postsecondary planning and enrollment.
You can find out much more via the Department of Education’s FAFSA Roadmap and implementation guide.
How will applicants be impacted?
If you’re a student applying for financial aid, or a parent helping your college-bound child, the most important thing you can do is be ready to hit the ground running when the FAFSA does open in December. While the application itself won’t be available until then, there are plenty of resources opening in advance, including Pell Grant estimation tables in May, a Better FAFSA preview slated for July, a FAFSA Estimator in early fall and a full-scale demo just prior to the form’s release.
Fortunately, the improvements coming with Better FAFSA should streamline the process and automate many of the previously manual tasks (like requesting tax data), ensuring you and your family have the easiest path to applying for the aid you qualify for. That said, we suggest you follow the FAFSA Twitter and Facebook pages for updates—especially if you’re a busy college student. (Don’t forget: you have to fill out the FAFSA every year!)
Will this change my scholarship deadlines?
The impact of the delay on institutional aid (i.e. scholarships and financial aid offers from colleges) remains to be seen; since DoE plans to go back to the traditional October 1 opening next year, we don’t anticipate colleges will change their practices too widely—it’s likely students will still get their financial aid offers on the usual timeline, in time to commit to their school by May 1, 2024.
For private scholarships like those managed by Scholarship America, there’s a little more flexibility. Scholarships that take student financial need into consideration do often rely on FAFSA data, and a delay in gathering that data could cause timelines and deadlines to shift. However, we can also work with our scholarship partners to find alternative ways to calculate need (such as prior-year data or suggested parent/family contribution estimates). The goal of all private scholarships is to help students in need, and Scholarship America and our partners will be working together to minimize student disruption and extra steps.
What else is happening in Washington that may impact students?
- The Supreme Court docket this spring includes two major decisions in the realm of higher education. Within the next few months, the Court will weigh in on President Biden’s student-loan forgiveness plan* and on race-conscious college admissions. While neither case deals directly with scholarships or financial aid, both could have significant effects on college costs and accessibility in the future.
(*The court is hearing arguments related to the forgiveness of up to $20,000 in loan debt. The Biden Administration’s reforms to income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness are still in the works.)
- The maximum value of Pell Grants will be rising to $7,395 in the 2023-24 academic year—a $500 increase from 2022-23, and part of the largest two-year increase in decades. This increase is in response to the lessened buying power of the Pell, which covered around 75% of need for low-income students when first introduced, but which in recent years has only paid about a third of the annual cost of college.
- Finally, the administration’s budget proposal for 2024-25 includes a further expansion of Pell Grants to $8,215, along with other priorities like opening federal student aid to DREAMers and DACA recipients, a $200 million expansion of the Career-Connected High Schools initiative and more. While the final budget will likely look different than this proposal, it’s a good guide to Washington’s priorities regarding higher education in the coming year.
For students, parents and scholarship providers alike, the world of higher ed and financial aid policy can be confusing. We’re here to keep you updated—follow Scholarship America on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay on top of all the latest news.