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FAFSA is changing this year—here's what families need to know

students near gates
September 21, 2023
Lake Forest College

For the first time in thirty years, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is changing. Here's what college students and their families need to know about how the FAFSA updates impact them.

Lake Forest College's in-house financial aid expert Associate Vice President for Financial Aid Jerry Cebrzynski is ready to answer any questions, but he also shared the most notable changes and addressed questions that may come up for students and families.

“The Federal Pell Grant and state of Illinois grant dollars have increased and are going to continue to increase more in the future,” Cebrzynski said. “These changes narrow the gap of what families can afford and what they need to pay. Lake Forest is going to be affordable for more families. College in general will be more affordable to more families.” 

Here are the most notable changes:

1. Reduced FAFSA questions = an easier process

The biggest change to FAFSA this year is that the number of questions on the application has been reduced; there will be nearly half the questions there have been in previous years.

 “That's because some of the questions in the past didn't really make a difference for eligibility. They decided to make the application easier and get rid of the unnecessary questions,” Cebrzynski said. 

2. A new financial aid formula

The second change is that the formula that determines eligibility for some of the federal aid programs has gotten better for many families.

According to Cebrzynski, “More students will be eligible for Pell Grants, and the amounts will be larger.”

3. Faster processing times

The third change is a more streamlined application process. Because the FAFSA is going to link directly to the IRS to answer questions about family income, there will be far fewer errors, faster processing times, and far fewer applications will be selected for verification.

“Verification is simply verifying answers on the form are correct. The new process is going to speed up the process dramatically with far fewer errors,” Cebrzynski said.

4. Application opens in December for 2023

Rather than applications for FAFSA opening October 1 as they have in the past, the new FAFSA application will open sometime in December. There is no exact date for the application opening yet, but families can expect to see the application open in December. In 2024 and forward, the application will open on October 1.

Lake Forest is going to be affordable for more families. College in general will be more affordable to more families.

Cebrzynski also answered some key questions families may have:

How do the FAFSA changes impact award letters?

“Most families will see a change for the better. Some families, a very small percentage, may not see a change with the Federal Pell Grant, but anything they are awarded from Lake Forest College will stay the same.”

When will FAFSA applications open in 2023?

“Instead of the FAFSA opening on October 1 as it has in the past, the FAFSA will be available starting in December.” There is no exact date yet, but Cebrzynski estimates mid-December.

How does the delayed application opening impact award timelines?

“For many new students at all colleges, the announcement of their offer will probably be a little delayed, but not at Lake Forest. We have a plan in place to cover that. There is the CSS Financial Aid Profile, a product of the College Board that allows the family to fill out that application starting October 1. We're going to use that information to send offers on a normal timeline.”

Are there any downsides to the FAFSA changes?

“The only downside will be for families who qualified in the past and do not anymore, specifically for the Pell Grant. Families with higher incomes who have multiple children in college may not see as much eligibility because their incomes are higher.”

What is the best resource where people can learn more and have their questions about financial aid answered?

  • - This is a landing page that goes into detail about the programs, where to find help, and provides resources.
  • High school students should reach out to their college counselor with questions.
  • Prospective Lake Forest College students and their families can ask their admissions counselor or our financial aid staff about any specific situations.

According to Cebrzynski, these changes are happening due to lobbying pressure from organizations, financial aid professionals, and college access networks. The changes are intended to make FAFSA more accessible and impactful for families.

“The FAFSA process will be a lot easier for families, so it won't be as burdensome, and far more families will be able to receive more money,” Cebrzynski said. “There are so many families who would qualify if they did fill out the form, but they find the process itself daunting. This will make it easier and it will help students find college affordable.”

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