FAFSA program gets an overhaul, affecting students applying for college aid

Posted at 10:45 AM, Jan 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-08 12:46:55-05

HELENA — The Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program was recently overhauled and made simpler.

The FAFSA received some huge changes for the first time in many years that went into effect on December 30. Right now, the application is in a soft launch phase, only open for applicants for a certain number of hours per day.

The application has been simplified by connecting IRS information with the FAFSA. For some applicants, there may be as few as 18 questions before submitting.

“We actually have had families call and say, ‘Is something wrong? This only took me 15 minutes,’ So, it is a much simpler process because of that direct data exchange with the IRS,” says Janet Riis, Director of Financial Aid at Carroll College.

Some families who have not had to report assets from small businesses and farming a ranch will now have to do so. Additionally, families who have multiple students in higher education will be impacted, as well. Riis says about 20% more students will be eligible for these federal grants.

Riis says that students should apply as soon as possible. These changes pushed back the start date of applications causing a ripple effect, impacting when colleges get information from the government concerning aid.

“We do not anticipate the results quite honestly probably until end of February probably at this point,” says Riis.

This then impacts when a family will know how much student aid and scholarships they may receive.

Despite the speed bumps occurring this year, Riis says that things should smooth out in years to come and that these changes are overall positive for students.

“It's going to be difficult for both sides, both families and colleges. But we’re working our hardest. We just ask for a little patience and grace as we work through all of it. As soon as the colleges get the results, we're working with our software teams to be able to produce the aid offers in a timely fashion so that families can make their decisions,” says Riis.