Changes are ahead for Indiana students and families navigating the process of applying for college financial aid.

A new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, branded as Better FAFSA, will both shorten the application process and expand eligibility for federal Pell Grants. This is also the first year Indiana high school seniors will be required to complete the FAFSA, which is the first step to accessing federal funds to pay for college. 

What to know about Indiana’s new FAFSA requirement

A new state law requires all Indiana high school seniors, with a few exceptions, to file the FAFSA form by April 15. The form will open by Dec. 31. 

The application determines student eligibility for federal student aid, including loans and grants. It’s not just for colleges and universities, though; students wishing to receive a Workforce Ready Grant, which covers tuition and fees for credentials and certificates at institutions such as Ivy Tech, must also fill out the FAFSA to be considered. 

The requirement is part of an effort by state lawmakers to increase Indiana’s college-going rate, which was 53% for the class of 2021. According to a report from the nonprofit National College Access Network, Indiana students in the class of 2023 left $69 million in Pell Grants on the table by not applying for federal aid. Those need-based grants are awarded to undergraduate college students. 

Statewide, about 48% of Indiana high school seniors completed the FAFSA in 2023 — in Marion County, the completion rate was just over 39%. 

April 15 is the priority deadline to receive state financial aid. If you miss the deadline, you still can apply, but at that point aid is distributed on a first come, first serve basis and is not guaranteed.  

The law carves out exceptions for students at certain nonpublic schools, as well as for parents or students who are emancipated minors and who sign a waiver opting out of FAFSA completion. A school principal or guidance counselor can also waive the FAFSA requirement for a student if the school makes at least two reasonable attempts to reach out to the parent or guardian and does not receive a response.

How is the 2024-25 FAFSA changing financial aid?

In 2020, Congress passed legislation to overhaul the application for federal financial aid, which has been implemented in phases. The final changes will be addressed in the upcoming college application cycle. 

The 2024-25 FAFSA launch is delayed due to these changes. In past years, FAFSA has launched Oct. 1. However, the agency has said the new, streamlined form will be released by Dec. 31. This is a one-time delay due to the changes, and in 2024 the application will once again be online on Oct. 1.

The new FAFSA form expands eligibility for federal Pell Grants for around 610,000 students who were not previously eligible. Qualifications are based on the federal poverty level and family size. 

In Indiana, the federal Department of Education is predicting more than 14,000 new Pell Grant recipients and more than 30,000 students who will receive maximum Pell Grant funds under the new standards.

The changes will expand aid for many low-income students. But many families are likely to see the amount they’re expected to contribute for college increase under the new FAFSA. 

That’s because the updated formula will no longer consider the number of students a family has that are enrolled in college in determining aid. The so-called sibling discount previously split a family’s expected contribution to their child’s college education among siblings. 

For example, a family could be expected to pay $20,000 for their child’s education, but with two children, each child’s family would be marked as contributing $10,000, potentially making those students eligible for more financial aid. 

The new FAFSA will be shorter

The new FAFSA will be shorter and streamlined. Depending on the student’s individual circumstances, the applicant may be able to skip as many as 26 questions. Some applicants will be able to complete the form in just 10 minutes; before, it could have taken at least three times that long in the best of cases, said Bill DeBaun, senior director of data and strategic initiatives at the National College Access Network. 

Federal Student Aid also will directly transfer tax information from the IRS into the FAFSA form with the consent of the contributor to make it easier to fill out the tax section.

The first step to completing the FAFSA this year is to create and sign up for a dedicated ID. Register for one here.  

Fill out FAFSA as soon as possible

In Indiana, experts generally recommend filling out the form as soon as possible so colleges and universities can begin to determine financial aid packages, though Indiana’s deadline is not until April 15.

DeBaun said the accelerated timeline puts pressure on college admissions offices, which will not receive FAFSA information until January, three months later than usual — giving them far less time to determine financial aid awards.

“There will be a little bit of a crunch in the spring,” he said. 

What are some resources for filling out the FAFSA?

Learn More Indiana, an initiative led by the state’s Commission for Higher Education, has a FAFSA assistance tool. Once the form is available, you can get help from an Indiana-based expert by filling out a questionnaire.

The Department of Education’s federal student aid toolkit website has a page with resources about the updated FAFSA, with more in-depth information about the changes.

The toolkit website also offers resources for translating FAFSA materials. Call 1-800-872-5327 for information about language assistance and 1-800-730-8913 for a teletypewriter for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. You can also email ed.language.assistance@ed.gov

If you want to see how much aid you may be eligible for under the new and updated FAFSA, you can use the Federal Aid Estimator to get a general idea.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include the correct federal language assistance number.

Claire Rafford covers higher education for Mirror Indy in partnership with Open Campus.

Claire Rafford covers higher ed for Mirror Indy in partnership with Open Campus.