Dewan: FAFSA changes could make it easier for families to get aid for college costs
San Jose State University. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

College costs can be overwhelming, but scholarships, financial aid and grants can help families manage these costs.

Each year, many families complete financial aid applications for college to access financial aid. In 2023, 14,937 high school students —more than 62% — in Santa Clara County submitted Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or CA Dream Act applications.

Assembly Bill 469, passed in 2021, requires high schools in California to verify that their seniors have completed a financial aid application or an opt-out form. California was the sixth out of 12 states to enact this requirement. School districts, charter schools and county offices of education must require high school seniors to complete the FAFSA or Dream Act application. Parents and students over 18 can complete a form to opt-out of FAFSA.

The 2024-25 FAFSA and Dream Act applications are available online for students seeking financial aid for college. This school year, the launch of the forms was delayed from its typical launch date of October while changes were being made to the forms and process. Because of the delay, the Cal Grant priority deadline has been extended to April 2. Some colleges may also choose to extend their typical application deadlines for their specific aid programs. Students are encouraged to verify the specific college aid deadlines.

The FAFSA should be completed by students who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents or eligible non-citizens.

The Federal Student Aid Office now integrates tax data directly into the FAFSA form. That means that most families will have pre-populated data on the form. As a result, families will hopefully find it easier and more efficient to complete the forms.

The eligibility formula has changed, which could mean that more students become eligible for financial aid. Parents, students and spouses each have role-based application sections on the form. A parent or a student can begin a FAFSA using their account (formerly FSA ID) and then invite the other to the application.

Since the new FAFSA application is in a soft launch phase, it may not always be available when technical updates are being made to the site. However, families should know that information submitted during the soft launch phase will be automatically saved.

The CA Dream Act application is for undocumented students, DACA recipients (valid/expired), U Visa holders, students with temporary protected status and those who meet AB 540 requirements. The application has been simplified and now allows electronic signatures.

The California Student Aid Commission offers free Cash for College workshops to help answer common questions about applying for financial aid. Financial aid experts are on hand during the workshops to answer questions for students and families. Students and  parents can find the schedule for workshops on the Cash for College webinar schedule website.

Both the 2024-25 FAFSA and Dream Act applications opened on Dec. 31 and are due April 2. A secondary deadline of Sept. 3 is applicable for community college students.

Learn more about how to apply.

San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

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