Better FAFSA: The program’s largest update in 40 years, delayed until December

Students will have to wait a little longer for the first major upgrade in 40 years to FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Better FAFSA includes such extensive changes that the application is delayed until December instead of its usual Oct. 1 start date. Federal and state governments and colleges use FAFSA applications to determine the eligibility of college students for aid like Pell grants, loans and scholarships.

Better FAFSA cuts the number of questions on the application from 108 to 36, simplifying the application significantly, according to the Department of Education. It does this in part through the FUTURE Act, which links tax returns more easily to the application.

Another focus of the upgrade includes “expanded eligibility.” The government predicts up to 930,000 additional Pell grant recipients, according to Some of these recipients will come from low-income students who have not been applying for Pell grants previously because of the complexity of the application or not knowing if they would receive enough aid.

According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, students who meet the income limit can now qualify for the maximum Pell grant of $7,395 based on income alone, instead of having to wait to see their specific award.

The number of middle to upper class students who qualify for Pell grants may not increase; this number may even see minor drops according to a report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). New changes mean a focus on overall wealth instead of income alone; however, the streamlined application will make it easier for them to apply and qualify for loans and scholarships from the government, their state or college.

Students with special circumstances may have a greater chance of qualifying and applying for Pell grants. For example, the streamlined nature of the application makes it easier for homeschool and foster students to apply, and incarcerated students can now receive Pell grants.

Even if students do not think their parent’s income will qualify for a FAFSA award, other types of aid require an application. For example, applicants to the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship must fill out Better FAFSA. According to U.S. News, some states even make filling out FAFSA a high school graduation requirement.

According to the CRS report, other changes include students and parents both filling out their own portions of the application with individual accounts (FSA IDs). Those without social security numbers will be able to obtain FSA IDs more easily. In an effort for transparency, the new application also includes a new and simpler index for calculating a student’s eligibility (Student Aid Index- SAI). Students can use this predictor to help estimate the amount of their award.

Idaho’s State Board of Education staff members are offering webinars for families to learn more about financial aid, Better FAFSA, and state scholarship programs:

  • Nov. 9, 7 p.m. (MST) – Link to register
  • Dec. 7, 7 p.m. (MST) – Link to register

The State Board will continue to update students and parents on the official opening date for Better FAFSA. As emphasized in a video on student, “for all of us in financial aid, there’s excitement in the air.”   

Katie McGuire

Katie McGuire

Katie McGuire is a freelance reporter for EdNews. She lives in Meridian with her husband and their two children. She has a bachelor's degree in secondary education social science teaching from Brigham Young University and a master's in history from Kent State University.

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