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Get Ready for FAFSA Season!

Guest Contributor


The 2022 fall semester is underway. All last winter, spring and summer, financial aid offices around the country were busy reviewing Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and creating financial aid awards that students (and families) have happily accepted. You've settled any outstanding balance with the Bursar's Office at your student's college. Everyone can finally relax...until you realize it's October and the 2023–2024 FAFSA application is now open! (It opens on October 1 of every year.)

Happiness may be replaced by anxiety and dread. If your student plans to enroll in school at least half-time during the 2023–2024, you'll need to complete the FAFSA. If you've completed it before, you know the application is both complex and extensive (which historically resulted in a significant amount of aid being unclaimed). If you haven't been through this process, you may be intimidated at the prospect.

You may also have heard about the Consolidated Appropriations Act (FAFSA Simplification Act) passed by Congress in 2020. What's changing about the form, and what will it mean for your family? How will it impact your student's award?

Fret not. I'm going to walk you through the changes that were implemented by the Act to make sure you're ready when you sit down with your student to complete the new FAFSA.

The main changes are as follows:

  • The number of questions on the FAFSA will ultimately be reduced from 106 to 36 (but not all at once, as you'll hear more about below).
  • A new measure is used to calculate Pell Grant eligibility.

Let's dig a little deeper with help from the Summary of Changes for the Application System released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Color Coding

The 2023–2024 FAFSA form colors are yellow for student information and purple for parent information. (The student color of FAFSA forms continues with the four-year color rotation of green, blue, yellow, and orange.)

No More Mobile App

Federal Student Aid has retired the myStudentAid mobile application. If you never used it, this change won't impact you directly. Students can still complete the FAFSA on a mobile device but must log in to the StudentAid.gov portal to complete and submit the application.

3 Questions Were Removed

Fewer questions and a simpler FAFSA are coming, but unfortunately we need to wait a bit longer. Federal Student Aid announced on June 11, 2021, a "phased approach" to implementing the Simplification Act.

This means the changes aren't all being implemented at once; therefore, you won't see significant changes to this year's FAFSA. However, a few questions have been removed for 2023–2024 application:

  • Question 21 – Are you Male or Female?
  • Question 22 – Register with Selective Service
  • Question 23 – Have you been convicted for possessing or selling illegal drugs …

Additional Changes

  1. Part of the FAFSA Simplification Act allows incarcerated students to regain eligibility to receive a Federal Pell Grant. There is a new FAFSA for incarcerated applicants only. The form is located on studentaid.gov.
  2. The "Need Analysis Income Threshold" has increased from $27,000 to $29,000 for an automatic zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
  3. The new application has pre-fillable answers to the dependency status questions.
  4. Lastly, they added a New Demographic Survey to the "Sign and Submit" section of renewal and initial applications. Students will be asked to provide their gender, race, and ethnicity before submitting the FAFSA application.

That's it!

Parents, I know that was a lot to take in but the changes are not extensive. There are more changes to come, but that's nothing you have to worry about this fall. So, here are a few items you need to help you complete the FAFSA form:

  • FSA ID – your digital legal signature that lets you complete and update the FAFSA form. Both dependent students and parents need to create one; do this by logging in to studentaid.gov.
  • Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number
  • 2021 Federal Income Tax Return
  • Untaxed Income Records
  • Records of Assets
  • List of schools your student is interested in attending (or their current school if they are applying to renew their financial aid)

If time is short, or you still have questions, you can always use a professional to help. Many high schools and community libraries host financial aid workshops in the fall where you can get free help completing the FAFSA. Good luck!

Tesha McMillon is a student loan expert with My College Planning Team, based in the Chicago area. Tesha holds master's and bachelor's degrees from Strayer University.
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