The FAFSA changes every year, sometimes in significant ways (as it did during COVID) and sometimes in negligible ways. To ensure that you have accurate expectations about the federal student aid application process, remember to check annually whether there are any FAFSA changes before applying on behalf of yourself or your child.
Rising College Costs & Why Federal Student Aid is Important
College in the United States can be incredibly expensive. On average, in-state public university tuition is about $10,000 a year, out-of-state public university tuition is about $30,000 a year, and private university tuition is about $40,000 a year. Ivy League schools often charge closer to $50,000-$60,000 per year. These numbers increase annually, with a nearly 7% annual growth rate.
This doesn’t even take into account housing, living expenses, or other educational expenses such as textbooks and technology which, depending on the city where your college is located, can add $15,000-$20,000 per year.
The majority of United States citizens make a salary lower than these figures and could not afford tuition alone, let alone living expenses, without student aid, grants, loans, or scholarships. That’s where the FAFSA comes in.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. High school seniors and college students can fill out the FAFSA form prior to every year they attend college to receive financial aid from the federal government for their college education. This aid is distributed based on the income of the student’s family. Students and/or parents who fill it out will require the tax forms from the previous year, notably their adjusted gross income. This is what the FAFSA uses to determine your eligibility for aid.
Aid from the FAFSA can come in the form of grants, work-study eligibility, and loans. The information you provide with the FAFSA can also impact the financial aid you receive directly from a private university. The following will summarize these forms of aid. (You can also read more about these federal student aid options on the FAFSA website.) If you are already familiar with this information, you can skip to our exploration of this year’s FAFSA changes.
Grants provide money (in this case, to college students) without the expectation that you will repay the grant giver. The Pell Grant is the most widely distributed federal grant and is given only to undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.
If your family’s income is under or around the poverty line — or far below the cost of attendance for college — you may receive a Pell Grant when you apply to the FAFSA. While the Pell Grant does not need to be paid back to the federal government, its continued renewal is contingent upon your full-time or part-time enrollment, the semesters you are enrolled in school, and your family’s income. The maximum amount you can receive for one school year is currently about $6,400.
Aside from the Pell Grant, there are a few other federal grants available to students.
Federal Work-Study pays students to work part-time while attending university. Students work in conjunction with their area of study and gain experience while earning income. Work-Study is only available at universities that participate in the Federal Work-Study Program and there is a limit to how many hours you can work and how much money you can earn, based on your financial need.
In addition to grants and work-study, the federal government provides federal student loans to both parents and students to help students pay for their time at university.
If you do not qualify for a grant or work-study, you may qualify for a loan.
- Direct Subsidized Loans are eligible to students with financial need and have terms concerning repayment and interest that are easier on students post-graduation.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans are eligible to students regardless of financial need.
- Direct PLUS Loans are eligible to graduate students or parents of undergraduate students.
There is a limit to how much students can borrow each year, dependent on their financial needs and their school’s cost of attendance.
How is the FAFSA Form Changing This Year?
Recently, the federal government passed the FAFSA Simplification Act, issued in conjunction with the second COVID-19 relief bill, which will make completing the FAFSA simpler for students and parents and make aid more accessible. Obviously, this means that there are a lot of FAFSA changes to look out for this year, so if you are renewing your FAFSA, you’ll want to study up on all the new differences.
FAFSA Changes: The Form
Students and parents alike rejoice! The structure of and experience of filling out the FAFSA have been made more user-friendly and efficient.
1. Visual Update
The FAFSA form will have a user interface that more closely resembles the rest of the website, enhancing the clarity and simplicity of the form.
2. Number of Questions Reduced
Previously, applicants were required to fill out more than 100 questions when completing the FAFSA. The most recent FAFSA changes will reduce this number by more than 60 percent; the maximum number of questions you will need to answer on the application will be 36.
3. More Languages
Currently, the FAFSA form is available in English, English Braille, and Spanish. The updated FAFSA will be translated into nine more languages (to be determined, as of this writing), making the form accessible to many more households.
4. Clearer Roles
To clarify who is filling out the form, the FAFSA will begin allowing users to select whether they are a student or parent prior to starting the application.
FAFSA Changes: The Aid Process
The FAFSA Simplification Act not only makes it easier to complete the form, but it expands eligibility for federal financial aid to many more students.
1. Drug Conviction
Currently, students with drug convictions are ineligible to continue receiving federal student aid. With the update, these convictions will not impact financial aid eligibility.
2. Selective Service
It was previously mandatory for FAFSA applicants to register with Selective Service to be eligible for financial aid. The new FAFSA changes remove this requirement – while students can still register with Selective Service through the FAFSA, it no longer affects their aid eligibility.
3. The Expected Family Contribution is now the Student Aid Index
The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a figure the FAFSA has used for years to calculate eligibility for financial student aid. It is calculated as the school’s cost of attendance subtracted from a family’s income and it can be no lower than $0.
The EFC is being converted into the Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI can be negative. This means that a family that makes less than a college’s cost of attendance will be able to receive more aid and/or be more likely to receive aid at all than before.
4. Pell Grant Eligibility
Finally, the new FAFSA changes make it much easier to qualify for a Pell Grant.
- Students whose families have a total income underneath the threshold for filing taxes will receive a maximum Pell Grant.
- Students whose families have a total income below 175% of the federal poverty line if filing jointly or below 225% of the federal poverty line if filing separately will receive a maximum Pell Grant.
- Incarcerated students will have eligibility for a Pell Grant.
These changes will be rolled out over the next couple of years. The eligibility of students to receive aid regardless of a drug conviction or their registration for selective service has been implemented in the application for the 2022-23 award season.
Can You Make Too Much Money To Qualify for FAFSA?
If you come from a middle-class family or even from a wealthy family that will not help you pay for your education, you may be wondering, What is the maximum income to qualify for FAFSA this year? There is no maximum income to qualify – each family’s financial situation is evaluated through the FAFSA application. It is not determined by looking at income alone.
This is why everyone who is applying to college is strongly advised to apply for the FAFSA. Even if you think your family makes too little to be able to attend college even aid or too much to qualify at all for student aid, you may still receive aid from the federal government for college.
Financial Aid Options Outside of the FAFSA
The recent FAFSA changes may increase the amount of aid you receive. If you don’t qualify for a grant or work-study, you may still be eligible for federal loans – it is recommended to apply for a loan through the federal government rather than a private firm, as the interest rates and other terms are typically less aggressive.
Furthermore, the information you provide on the FAFSA, in conjunction with your academic experience and strengths, can impact the aid you receive from private universities. If you did not qualify for federal aid but still cannot afford your dream college’s tuition, the university itself may offer you aid that will make tuition affordable.
Many families are in a spot where they cannot afford college, but federal need-based aid still does not cover the cost. In addition, undocumented students still aren’t eligible for federal student aid, hindering them from accessing higher education. Regardless of your situation (and even if you are expecting need-based aid), make sure that you apply for merit-based aid and scholarships.
These programs look at students’ grades, volunteer work, and test scores – such as the SAT and ACT – to determine scholarships awards. For example, the Questbridge Scholarships, available through The Questbridge National College Match, are full scholarships to 45 different universities available to students from low-income families.
Stand Out From the Crowd with Piqosity Test Prep
The recent FAFSA changes have increased the number of students that can apply and qualify for federal student aid and will give more students the means to attend college.
Again, one way you can increase your chances of getting merit-based aid is to perform well on the standardized tests that are a component of many college applications. Ensure that you prepare for your tests ahead of time and study if you need to improve your score.
Piqosity’s competitively priced test prep courses provide up to 10 full-length ACT practice tests and full-length SAT practice tests. If you are an educator helping your students prepare for the ACT, SAT, and college admissions, know that Piqosity currently offers free online test prep for public schools.
While taking practice tests is an essential component of test prep, Piqosity is also proud to offer a bevy of free test prep resources, including a mini-diagnostic test, lessons, video tutorials, practice questions, strength and weakness analyses, and more, all through our free Community Plan. You can also check out Piqosity’s blog for even more free resources, like our free ACT practice tests with answer explanations.
Registration is always free and does not require a credit card.
If a student completes the FAFSA, does their best in school and in preparing for the ACT and/or SAT, and applies to merit-based grants and scholarships, then they are setting themselves up for success. Piqosity can help you make your college dreams happen. Start studying with us today!
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