For DonorsFor Applicants

9 Tips for Applying for FAFSA as New, Simplified Form Rolls Out This Year

College
Written by Dom DiFurio
Updated: June 14, 2024
6 min read
Award$25,124
Deadline12 days left to apply
Create Free Bold.org Account

Applying for federal student aid has always been a necessary process, but never a simple one. This year, the federal government rolled out a new, supposedly simplified version of the application form online.

Bold.org analyzed resources from the Department of Education, the National College Attainment Network, and news reports to compile this list of tips for students to get a head start on FAFSA applications for the 2024-25 school year. The aid varies depending on a student’s household income and other factors and isn’t available to noncitizens or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.

FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, has been a lifeline for students who couldn’t afford a college education without it since 1992. Congress added it to the Higher Education Act, intending to bring equal opportunity to college admissions.

Students can apply either through the online portal or by mailing in a printable PDF. The FAFSA form serves two purposes: to gauge your qualification for federal aid and grants and scholarships at the state level.

The rollout of the new application form has been plagued with unfortunate technical problems that have students hanging in the balance, wondering if they'll receive enough assistance to attend the school of their dreams. Though the feature hasn't worked perfectly for everyone, a new integration with the IRS enables applicants to seamlessly pull in income and tax information, simplifying a previously onerous process. The new application format was supposed to be more straightforward and generous in calculating aid for lower-income applicants.

Hiccups with the new FAFSA forms started with a delayed rollout of the updated online submission form. Typically, the form is available beginning on Oct. 1 each year, but it wasn't reliably accessible until the second week of January 2024. Delays in the information on applications reaching schools, miscalculations for needed aid money, and vendor errors the Department of Education discovered in March created even more trouble for hundreds of thousands of applicants and financial aid offices nationwide.

The National College Attainment Network tracks FAFSA applications and submission data. It has seen a lower rate of high schoolers completing applications than in typical years before the new form.

As of May 3, just over 38% of high school seniors from the class of 2024 completed the form, down from 20.5% at the same time the year before. The organization attributes the decline mostly to the late rollout and technical issues, but NCAN communication director Matthew Odom told Stacker some high school graduates may have also been discouraged by headlines about errors and delays.

Given the factors outside applicants' control in the aid process, it's never too soon to begin the submission. The strategies below can help your application process run smoothly.

fafsa form
Piotr Swat // Shutterstock

Gather Your Documents and Set aside at Least an Hour

The Department of Education estimates that completing the FAFSA aid application will take at least one hour. To prevent the process from dragging out, prepare the documents and information you'll need ahead of time.

Dependent students will need their parents' information for all documents; people applying who are married need their spouse's information, including the following.

- Social Security numbers and recent tax documents or returns.- Records of untaxed income received, including child support, income from interest, or veterans benefits unrelated to education.- Account balances for savings and checking accounts and information about any cash. Dependent students need parents' business information if they are owners.

fafsa application
GalacticDreamer // Shutterstock

Know Whether You're a Dependent or Independent Student

One of the first things a student should determine is whether they qualify as dependent or independent. A dependent student relies on their parents at least in part for their financial well-being. An independent student is not required to submit parental or guardian information during the FAFSA process.

You might be an independent student if you are a military veteran, support children, have been an orphan, were in foster care, or were a ward of the court after age 13. Independent students are also those legally emancipated as a minor, are in a legal guardianship with someone other than a parent or stepparent, or were homeless in the last year.

applying for fafsa
Tero Vesalainen // Shutterstock

Give Yourself Time to Make an FSA ID

It can take up to three days for an FSA ID to be activated so that you can actually submit it, so don't wait until the last minute. Each parent also needs an FSA ID if the applying student is a dependent. The Department of Education warns that students and parents sharing the same FSA ID across the student and parent forms can create delays.

fafsa deadlines
TukkataMoji // Shutterstock

Contact your state's education agency to confirm filing deadlines

Because the FAFSA gauges applicants' qualifications for both federal aid and state grants and scholarships, different deadlines apply. The federal deadline is 11:59 p.m. Central on June 30. Applicants can make corrections and updates to the form until 11:59 p.m. Sept. 14.

You can visit the Department of Education's contacts page to look up your state department of education and find more info on your deadlines.

fafsa application process
Tero Vesalainen // Shutterstock

If You're Considering More than One School, Include Them All on Your Form

Some applicants might be concerned that showing all school preferences on their FAFSA form might hurt their chances of acceptance at their top choice school. However, schools don't see the additional choices on your FAFSA, according to the Department of Education, so go ahead and add all of the schools you're considering applying to your form. You can add as many as 10 schools at a time.

apply for fafsa
Lopolo // Shutterstock

Don't Confuse the Parent Portion with the Student Portion

Dependent students will need their parents to fill out a separate, accompanying application form. The Department of Education uses the language "you" and "your" to refer to students and specifically references parents in places where parent information is needed. With the new online form, however, the student should be able to fill out their application portion without ever seeing the parents' portion.

tips for fafsa
Mangostar // Shutterstock

Don't Skip the IRS Integration if You Can Use It

The "Go to the IRS" tool should allow for an easy import of income and tax information from the agency. There have been some issues with the new integration, particularly for students and parents without SSNs.

As of April 30, users without an SSN should be able to access the form, but will need to enter their financial information manually. For those planning to apply for aid for the 2025-26 school year the Federal Student Aid office plans to verify non-SSN holders' identities before they can even access the form. The NCAN recommends starting that process as soon as possible to be ready for the next year.

fafsa for students
fizkes // Shutterstock

Check in with Individual Schools

Keep your FAFSA submission receipt on hand in case schools need proof of submission. Given the delays in processing, it might be a good idea to reach out to the individual schools you're most interested in to check on the status of your aid application.

apply for FAFSA
Vitalii Vodolazskyi // Shutterstock

Be Patient

The new FAFSA system has had plenty of hiccups in its first year. The bumps may not all be smoothed out in time for 2024-25 applications, but you're not alone in navigating this process. The Department of Education has said it is working on fixes.

Story editing by Alizah Salario. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

Dom DiFurio
Contributor

About Dom

Dom DiFurio is a staff writer covering money, the economy, business trends, real estate, and more.

He previously wrote for The Dallas Morning News and his work has been published in The Washington Post, USA Today, and ESPN Magazine as well as local and regional newsrooms across the country. He has been recognized by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, and Columbia University.

Check out our Editorial Policy
Help Fight Student Debt
Share this article with your friends