What to Know about the New FAFSA and Applying for Financial Aid for College in 2024

This year’s college application season brings significant uncertainty, especially for low-income high school students applying for the first time for financial aid for college.  

We asked Neeta Sonalkar, BDT’s Director of Higher Education Innovation, all about the changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and how BDT is supporting students to access financial aid. 

When is the FAFSA opening? 

The FAFSA, which is the form students must complete to apply for federal Pell Grants and other types of financial aid to help pay for college, will become available by the end of December 2023. We are watching closely to find out just when students and their families will be able to begin filling out the new form. The Office of Federal Student Aid recently announced that the initial opening period of the FAFSA will be a "soft launch" with pauses for maintenance. 

Why is the FAFSA delayed this year? 

The 2024-2025 FAFSA, known as the Better FAFSA, has been simplified and redesigned, as required by two laws passed by Congress. Yet the long process to update the FAFSA resulted in its delayed release this year. The FAFSA typically opens each year for a new college application season on October 1.  

How will this year’s FAFSA delay impact students applying for financial aid to start college in the fall? 

The delayed FAFSA is causing uncertainty and confusion for college applicants, their families, school counselors, and college financial aid officers. There is less time for students to apply for financial aid and for colleges to review, process, and distribute aid offers to students. 

January and February will be critical months for everyone working to support college access for low-income students, as they mobilize efforts to help students complete the FAFSA. 

Last year, four in every 10 high school students did not complete the FAFSA, leaving almost $3.6 billion in Pell Grants unused. The new, simplified FAFSA can help more students access financial aid, but we need to navigate this year’s challenging debut of the new form to ensure progress toward college access for low-income students.   

What's changing with this year's FAFSA? 

The most notable changes include fewer questions on the FAFSA and updated eligibility rules that expand who qualifies for a Pell Grant: 

  • A new connection to IRS data will eliminate the need for most students to track down federal tax information to report on the form. Instead, with their consent, the system will be able to pull up data from their own and/or their family’s latest tax filing. This will significantly reduce the number of questions students will be asked to complete on the FAFSA – a win for streamlining access to financial aid for college.  
  • Changes to the eligibility criteria will make it possible for hundreds of thousands more students to qualify for a Pell grant for college – but they must complete the FAFSA to secure it. 

How is BDT helping students complete the FAFSA? 

Students can ask Wyatt®, a digital FAFSA advisor from BDT, all of their questions about the FAFSA. Wyatt is free for students to use and helps college applicants get FAFSA information and guidance quickly.  

In this unprecedented year when the FAFSA has been significantly revised, BDT has partnered with uAspire, a national leader in college advising and financial aid, to ensure that all of Wyatt’s new content is thoroughly vetted and up to date. Wyatt is always just a text message away, and students can be confident they will get accurate, timely answers sent right to their phone. 

BDT has offered Wyatt since 2019, and it has helped more than 30,000 students access nearly $40 million in financial aid for college. Tested and ready to meet the moment, Wyatt is an essential tool for helping students complete the new FAFSA to unlock financial aid to pursue their college and career goals.  

Sign up for Wyatt at www.GetFAFSAHelp.org.  

Read more about the challenges facing college applicants – and what BDT is doing to meet them – in this USA TODAY opinion piece by our CEO Trooper Sanders.