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5 Ways to Prepare for the New FAFSA

FAFSA spelled out with blocks

The online release of the new simplified version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was delayed in 2023 almost three months beyond the usual October 1 release date. Here are some important tasks you can tackle right now to start filing for financial aid.

The new version of the FAFSA, intended to simplify the way students apply for financial aid, became available in a “soft launch” beginning the last weekend of December 2023. As of this writing, the online form is available for limited hours as the Department of Education monitors and updates the form.

While you might want to wait until the form is more stable to complete your FAFSA, there are a few things you can do right now that might help you save time when you do complete the online form.


1. Line up your “contributors”

The new FAFSA will ask students to submit financial information about themselves and their spouse or parents (called “contributors”). The contributors about whom a student must submit financial information depends on the student’s dependency status (whether the student is dependent upon their parents or independent), tax filing status, and marital status.

Usually, dependent students must submit financial information about themselves and both parents, and independent students must provide information about themselves and a spouse, if married.

The Federal Student Aid office provides information about how to identify a contributor in different circumstances, such as if you are a dependent student but don’t live with your parents or if you have no contact with your parents.

It’s important to note that each contributor will need to create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) account and an FSA ID to complete the FAFSA, which brings us to the next item.

2. Create Your Federal Student Aid Accounts and Sign Consent Forms

If you haven’t done so already, go to the Federal Student Aid website and create your FSA account, and ask your contributors to do the same. During registration, each contributor will be asked to create an FSA ID, which they’ll use to access the FAFSA form. According to the Federal Student Aid office, contributors without a Social Security number can create an account, obtain an FSA ID, and access the FAFSA form.

Contributors must also sign a consent form allowing the Federal Student Aid office to download their tax information from the Internal Revenue Service and to share that information with your colleges. Even if a contributor has not filed a federal tax return with the IRS, he or she must provide this consent. Failing to do so will make the student ineligible for federal financial aid.

3. Review Financial Aid Deadlines

It’s important to keep three financial aid deadlines in mind: the deadline set by your state, the federal deadline, and the deadline for every college on your list. Many colleges have priority financial aid deadlines, which means you need to submit your FAFSA form by that date to give yourself the best chance of receiving the most money. You’ll find these deadlines on CollegeData’s college profiles, but always double check them with the college’s financial aid office and website.

4. Follow the Federal Student Aid Office on Social Media

The Federal Student Aid Office will be releasing updates related to the new FAFSA form and financial aid on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels. Follow them to stay in the information loop. Information will also be posted to the Federal Student Aid website regularly. In addition, you can download a paper version of the FAFSA here.

5. Search for scholarships

The changes to the FAFSA include adjustments to the formula for determining financial need, which may affect how much aid you are eligible to receive. This could mean you receive more aid, or less. Now is a good time to look and apply for scholarships to supplement any financial aid you may receive. Use CollegeData’s Scholarship Finder to explore thousands of scholarship awards worth more than $5 billion.

Finally, remember that it is important to complete the FAFSA form, even if you don’t think you or your family will qualify for financial aid. Some colleges use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for merit scholarships and other awards. At the very least, you may qualify for an unsubsidized federal student loan. For more information on scholarships and paying for college, visit CollegeData’s Pay Your Way and Scholarship Central blogs.

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