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After Congress approved some major changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) a few years ago, the US Department of Education has taken years to fully implement the changes and overhaul the FAFSA form.

The target date for release of the new form, October 1, 2023, was missed.

The Department of Education then announced a “soft launch” by December 31, meaning that the form would be open by December 31 at the latest (it opened that day for two hours), but also be intermittently closed from time to time for review and maintenance.

These fits and starts have caused students, families, and financial aid offices to play the waiting game and adjust their financial aid timelines.

New York Times columnist Ron Lieber’s article I Spent New Year’s Eve Trying to Do the FAFSA. It Didn’t Go Well, published on January 1, summed up some of the frustrations experienced by families trying to complete the FAFSA form when it opened at the end of December.

Many of the kinks, as of mid-January, now seem to have been worked out.

While families should complete the form as soon as they can, they should not worry about getting it done immediately.

The US Department of Education has indicated that it will not be sending the information to schools until the end of January at the earliest. So, it may be best to wait a week or so more to ensure a clear path to completion.

Noted Changes to the New 2024-2025 FAFSA Form:

  • Form length. The new FAFSA form is considerable shorter. The form has been reduced from 108 questions to about 46, or less, depending on your situation.
  • The custodial parent is now who contributed the most financially for the student. For divorced families, the parent required to complete the FAFSA used to be whomever the student lived with the most in the previous year. It is now whomever contributes the most financially.
  • Pretax Contributions to a retirement account (from W-2 box 12) is no longer required for untaxed income. See form for exceptions such as SEP.
  • If a parent owns a business, it must be disclosed on the form. Previously, if a parent owned a business but there were under 100 employees, they were not required to list the business value on the form. Now ALL parent-owned businesses must be listed. You should list the value after any debt.
  • 529 Accounts. Previously all parent-owned 529 accounts for any children had to be included in the investments section. Now only a 529 for the student on the application must be listed. 529s in grandparent’s or relative’s names are NOT included.
  • Students and parents are now required to give “Consent” which must be given for the Direct Data Exchange (previously called the IRS Data Retrieval). For the FAFSA to be processed, the student and parent must give “consent” which will automatically populate income information, except for a few situations.
  • Students and parents are now called “Contributors”. This does NOT mean they are required to contribute financially. The student must “invite” the parent to be a contributor.
  • EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) is now called the SAI (Student Aid Index). This is the number created by the formula to determine a student’s eligibility, based on the information on their FAFSA application which the government and schools use to award need-based aid.
  • The number of students in college is still listed on the form but is no longer considered in the eligibility calculation. If the student will have one or more siblings in college at the same time for the coming year, or has in past years, this will no longer lower the student’s SAI. The result for parents is that having more than one dependent in college at the same time does not necessarily translate to more need-based financial aid. For current students in this situation, talk to your financial aid counselor for information on how this may affect your aid.
  • Maximum number of schools you can list on the form. The previous FAFSA limited applicants to 10 schools. You may now list up to 20 schools to receive your FAFSA form.

My recommendation is for every student to complete the FAFSA form, especially in year one.

Some schools award non-need-based grants and merit scholarships only to students who complete the form. Also, this is the only way to take advantage of using the Federal Student Loans if you intend to do any borrowing for college.

To complete the 2024-2025 FAFSA form, go to and click on the link “Start New Form.”

After completing the FAFSA form, watch for an email from the US Department of Education with the “FAFSA Submission Summary” (previously called the Student Aid Report) which has information about your FAFSA application.

Also, watch for school communications from colleges your student has been admitted to and to whom they have sent the FAFSA. Schools will begin sending out financial aid offer letters once they start receiving and processing the FAFSA forms from the Department of Education. If you have any questions regarding these offers, contact the financial aid office at the school. Timelines at each school will vary, especially with this year’s delays.

If you would like information on how we can help your personal situation with our college planning service, please sign up for a free 30-minute consultation on our website.

For additional FAFSA and college planning please see our College Planning articles on our website Blog.