New changes to FAFSA bring much-needed improvements

Every year, the United States Department of Education gives away around $112 billion in free federal student aid. All students are required to do in order to receive this aid is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA. Historically, the form has consisted of 108 questions. However, in 2023, the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020 went into effect, which has effectively shortened the form to a mere 46 questions for the 2024 to 2025 school year and beyond. Overall, the quicker and simpler process paired with a slight adjustment to how aid is calculated will increase the amount of aid for many students, benefitting more students than before. 

By making FAFSA easier to complete, the change inclines more students to take advantage of available financial aid opportunities. In another move to increase accessibility, the Department of Education plans to make the form available in the nine most common languages spoken in the United States in addition to English and Spanish, which are already available. This move would help non-native English speakers, such as students in the Multilingual Program at Berkeley High School, apply for federal financial aid through FAFSA.

In addition to being quicker and more accessible, the new system for calculation, the Student Aid Index (SAI) is more generous in awarding aid by making a larger portion of families’ income exempt from financial aid calculations. Furthermore, it increases the maximum income for Pell Grant eligibility and provides incarcerated students the opportunity to apply while disregarding past drug convictions. 

However, the one key question missing from the form is the number of people in a household attending college. Under the current form, if two siblings simultaneously attend college, they will not receive more financial aid although parent contributions are about half of what they would be if they had one student. Proponents of the FAFSA Simplification Act argue that this is addressed by the fact that students who come from families with multiple people attending college are eligible to receive higher-valued institutional grants. However, this does not make up the difference between the aid these students would have received in the past and what they will receive under the new FAFSA. Such a policy will harm many BHS students who have siblings who will be attending college at the same time as they are. 

Overall, to the delight of many students, but especially parents, the 46-question updated FAFSA has saved them the hassle of digging through mountains of paperwork or digitally organized files to find information about their income and financial assets. 

However, for the 2025 to 2026 FAFSA, the Department of Education must consider factoring in the number of students attending university within a household. A family with two or three college-bound students cannot be expected to contribute the same amount toward each of their children’s education as a family with only one child in college. This is especially true of low-income families, who make up 30 percent of the BHS community. In summary, the changes to FAFSA, with the exception of the reduction of recognition of the number of college-bound students in a household, benefit BHS students.