Maximize your financial aid: Tips to navigate the new FAFSA
This typically is the time of year when high school seniors and their parents would be filling out FAFSA forms, which are the applications to access Federal Pell Grant financial assistance for college.
But the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application won’t be available until next month because it’s being changed.
Because one of the requirements to earn the Meeting Street Scholarship is receiving a Pell Grant, the application window for the Scholarship also has been postponed until January 2024.
In the meantime, students who are interested in the Meeting Street Scholarship Fund can submit an interest form to be notified when applications are available.
We spoke with Lauren Smalls, director of school counseling at Baptist Hill Middle High School, to learn more about the FAFSA changes and what it means for students.
Meeting Street Scholarship Fund: Why has the FAFSA been delayed for the 2024-2025 school year?
Lauren Smalls: The delay in the 2024 FAFSA is due to changes that simplify the application process. The new FAFSA will be able to retrieve specific information needed to submit, like tax information, making the process easier on applicants and reducing the number of questions from over 100 to about 30.
Also, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is now called the Student Aid Index (SAI). The name change was made in part because people often confused the EFC for how much they would have to pay out-of-pocket for college instead of the type and amount of aid a student is eligible to receive. The SAI has an updated formula, which means more students will qualify for financial aid. This is great news because it’s a significant step forward to increasing access to financial aid and reducing the need for students to take out excessive loans for their college education.
MSSF: How does the FAFSA delay impact college application timelines?
LS: The FAFSA delay should not impact college application timelines, so students should complete and submit their college applications as soon as possible and focus on securing financial aid and scholarship opportunities. By submitting college applications early, students will have more time to weigh their options and make informed decisions about which college they want to attend in the fall.
MSSF: What can students do now to prepare for the FAFSA opening?
LS: To ensure a smooth FAFSA application process, create a FAFSA ID now. This will be the key to accessing and submitting the application, so it’s important to have it ready when the FAFSA opens. If parents or guardians have filled out the FAFSA for other students in the past, they can use the same login information. However, it’s crucial to test login information now to make sure you can access your account.
MSSF: What will students need to fill out the FAFSA when it’s live?
LS: When the FAFSA is live, applicants will need their Social Security number and their parents’ tax returns, W-2 forms and untaxed income records. The new FAFSA will autofill most of this information, but applicants should have this on hand, just in case. Additionally, students will need to share which colleges they have applied to or are planning to apply to, so they should have a list of schools ranked according to their preference.
MSSF: How long will it take to hear back once a student submits the FAFSA?
LS: In prior years, it could take as little as two weeks for students to hear whether they received a Pell Grant. However, with the changes this year, it may take six weeks or more. Students will hear from each college they were accepted to that also was listed on the FAFSA. The college will send what I like to call an Award Packet, which outlines the grants, scholarships, and loans the student is eligible for and any remaining costs. Each college’s response time may vary, so be patient.
MSSF: Do you have any tips for students and parents as they prepare to submit the FAFSA?
- Be proactive and start early. Don’t wait until the last minute to gather your documents and submit your application. I recommend submitting the FAFSA by February, if not sooner.
- Take your time and make sure all the information you provide is accurate. Double-check addresses, dependents and Social Security numbers. Even small mistakes can cause delays.
- If you have questions, contact your school counselor. They may have resources or know of workshops that can help. Additionally, you can find many answers on the Federal Student Aid website and Sallie Mae has some great FAFSA, financial aid and scholarship resources.
- Be mindful of college deadlines so you don’t miss out on any opportunities.
Although the FAFSA delays may be stressful, preparing and submitting college applications early can help ensure a smooth and easy application process when the FAFSA opens. The 2024-25 FAFSA form is expected to be available in December.
For more student resources and information about the Meeting Street Scholarship Fund, visit MeetingStreetScholarshipFund.org. For updates, news, and more, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.