The FAFSA has changed—what to know

Significant changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application will streamline the process for students and their parents.

A FAFSA application form.
Image: iStock/Richard Stephen

Beginning with the 2024-2025 academic year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone significant changes due to the FAFSA Simplification Act, marking the first major overhaul of the application in over 40 years. These changes aim to bring about a more streamlined process for students and parents, and reduce barriers to accessing federal financial aid for their education.

Notable changes to the FAFSA:

  • For students applying Early Decision to Penn, the 2024-2025 FAFSA will not be available until December 2023. This means that students applying Early Decision will not be able to submit this piece of their financial aid application by the early decision deadline. This will not impact the ability or eligibility to apply to Penn or to apply for financial aid at Penn.

    Student Financial Aid will provide an initial financial aid award upon completion and submission of all other application requirements. Domestic financial aid applicants will be required to submit the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available. Students will receive a final financial aid award in the spring that includes any federal aid eligibility. A student’s total amount of financial aid will not decrease, and the amount that a family may owe will not increase, but the sources of aid may be adjusted to account for any federal financial aid funding a student is eligible to receive based on their FAFSA.
  • The introduction of a new term: contributor. Contributor refers to anyone who is required to provide information as part of a student’s FAFSA, such as a parent/step-parent or spouse. Previously, these contributors were referred to as Parent 1 and Parent 2. The way in which a student answers questions in the FAFSA will determine which contributors (if any) will be required to provide information. Being a contributor does not mean they are financially responsible for the student’s education costs, but it does mean the contributor must provide information on the FAFSA or the application will be considered incomplete. If the student is required to included information from contributors in their FAFSA, and does not, the FAFSA will remain incomplete and a calculation for federal aid eligibility cannot occur.
  • A new acronym for what was previously known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which will now be referred as the Student Aid Index (SAI). Similar to the EFC, the SAI will inform Student Financial Aid of the types of federal financial aid funding the student may be eligible to receive. It is important to note that the SAI is only tied to federal financial aid eligibility, and Penn will continue to use the EFC acronym in a financial aid notice to indicate the institutional assessment of a family’s ability to afford the cost of attendance.
  • The Student Aid Index will no longer take into consideration siblings attending other colleges/universities. This will only impact a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid, and Penn will continue to include siblings enrolled in other colleges/universities as part its calculation of your demonstrated need. Penn uses the FAFSA to understand eligibility for federal aid, but it will not impact the ability to meet 100% of your demonstrated need.

Most importantly, Penn is committing to determining financial need based on a student's initial financial aid application, and submitting the FAFSA after it becomes available will not cause aid to decrease or total net cost to increase.

Visit the Prospective Undergraduate Student Checklist for more information on application requirements.

For additional information and resources, visit A Better FAFSA Process Means a Better Future for Everyone.

This story originally appears on the Penn Admissions blog.