A new FAFSA is coming
We all know that the FAFSA is often key to opening doors to higher education. Yet the complicated process all too often shuts out students most in need of aid. Thankfully, an updated FAFSA is bringing exciting and long-awaited changes. Think more access, fewer barriers, and increased efficiency.
But with this new form right around the corner, some uncertainty remains. An updated FAFSA brings valuable improvements, along with a demanding transition period for higher education leaders. New verification steps, swapped terminology, and eligibility changes demand quick adaptation. It’s a lot to take in!
Institutions that get a head start on understanding and adapting will be able to guide more applicants through the process successfully. Let’s explore how your team can ease this transition over the next few months to smoothly navigate the FAFSA enhancements to widen access and help more students achieve their academic dreams.
What you need to know about upcoming FAFSA changes
The FAFSA form is undergoing significant changes to increase access and ease the application process for students. The planned modifications include:
- Customized questions based on a student’s answers so only relevant sections appear
- Foster, homeless, and unaccompanied youth, as well as applicants who cannot provide parental information, will be able to complete the form with a provisional independent student determination and receive a calculated Student Aid Index (SAI)
- Listing up to 20 colleges versus the previous limit of 10 when submitting the FAFSA
- Starting with the 2024-25 FAFSA, most will have their tax info auto-filled by giving consent for IRS data sharing, simplifying the process, and reducing manual entries
The form will also have adjusted terminology around expected costs, a simplified application for certain low-income applicants, and the removal of selective service and drug conviction barriers that previously disqualified some students.
With expanded eligibility brings the need for more tailored guidance for your team — and your students. Finding the right balance of communication and support during rollout will be key. You want to make sure your staff understands the new changes and has a plan to provide timely guidance as the application rules and requirements evolve.
How to prepare today:
- Get the facts out:
It’s important to inform staff and families of policy shifts as soon as you can to reduce confusion later.
• Highlight the expanded eligibility for Pell Grants — and let students know that they no longer need to be enrolled half-time to qualify.
• Communicate the importance of giving consent for the Department of Education to receive tax information or confirmation of non-filing status directly from the IRS. If a contributor does not provide consent, the FAFSA form can still be submitted, but a Student Aid Index (SAI) will not be calculated.
• Note that the new federal financial aid formula does not take into consideration the number of children a family has currently enrolled in college, potentially resulting in a larger SAI (and less federal aid) for students with siblings in college.
- Set up resources:
Think about creating guidance tailored specifically for first-gen students, non-native speakers, and non-traditional applicants to ensure inclusive support. You should be prepared to address questions and concerns from students regarding the consent for information exchange and other new changes
- Verify IDs early:
Have students and families create their FSA IDs along with multi factor authentication well in advance to avoid delays. Remind students not to wait until the same day they want to complete the form, as it takes a few days for verification.
- Skill-up staff:
Provide continual training across departments to build expert staff guidance on evolving procedures. Inform your team that students who didn’t qualify before may now be eligible for financial aid. With so many changes to communicate in a short timeframe, working with Mainstay can help you get the word out at scale. Our tailored messaging delivered across channels ensures accurate information reaches the maximum number of students. Through extensive knowledge base updates, we can answer more questions instantly, freeing up your team to handle more one-off situations.
Evaluate new and existing technology:
Finding innovative ways to support more students is key to helping everyone navigate the new process and eliminate possible barriers. Now is the time to look into new tools that could simplify the application and verification process through automation and personalization. Engage students to gather feedback on their support needs and use it to guide outreach efforts. Being proactive now will pay off in the long run.
Leveraging targeted outreach
With packed schedules and numerous obligations, deadlines can easily slip through the cracks. That’s why relevant reminders and friendly nudges are so effective. By reminding students about key steps and important due dates in their unique journeys, we empower them to persist through the process. Whether it’s a quick question or a complex concern, having help just a text away makes everything feel easier to handle.
By weaving tailored messaging, timely reminders, and around-the-clock support into our communication strategy, we can improve clarity and provide the simplicity students need to persist.
Navigating FAFSA changes with Mainstay
Communication should be a compass, not a maze. Mainstay helps provide a clear path by ensuring every student has access to the resources they need — and feels comfortable using them. For nearly a decade we have used proven, conversational messaging to help schools like Georgia State University boost FAFSA completion. This approach has been particularly effective for first-gen and Pell-receiving students.
Today, our team continues to be on the frontlines — attending summits, researching updates, and improving our product to make this transition as smooth as possible for students and faculty. Drawing inspiration from emerging insights and past success, we’ve launched a set of new scripts designed to kickstart conversations before the Better FAFSA form even launches. We’ve also updated over 150 AI understandings in our FAFSA Knowledge Base, reimagining the entire FAFSA journey as requirements evolve.
By starting early, schools can proactively shape understanding rather than reacting down the line. This proactive engagement strategy has proven effective for many of our partners, including North Carolina State University who worked with us to increase FAFSA submissions by 3.5%.
As you tackle new protocols and changing requirements, partnering with experts makes progress possible. Together have the power to transform barriers into gateways as we guide students through their higher Ed journey. Let’s get started!