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The Student Registration and Financial Services offices are located in the Franklin Building at 3451 Walnut Street. 

Credit: Cynthia Dong

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid launched with several major changes for the 2024-2025 academic year. 

The changes include shortening the list of questions by more than half, moving back the date the form becomes available, and no longer considering the number of the applicant's siblings attending other universities. The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with Penn's Director of Finance Administration and Communications Paul Richards — as well as incoming Penn students who applied for financial aid — to learn how the changes to the FAFSA are affecting applicants this admissions cycle. 

In previous years, the FAFSA form became available on Oct. 1. The application this year opened in December after early decision applications closed on Nov. 1. Penn Admissions has stated that the shifted timeline will not impact students' ability to apply for financial aid at Penn.

Richards told the DP that the FAFSA simply determines if a student is eligible for federal financial aid. Penn will still provide institutional aid for a student who is not eligible for federal aid or whose award does not meet their full demonstrated financial need. 

Penn Student Registration & Financial Services and Penn Admissions encouraged students to submit their financial aid requirements — including their CSS Profile and relevant tax returns — by the posted deadline, according to Richards. He said that students will receive a guaranteed financial aid letter with their admissions decisions. 

While the Student Aid Index no longer asks how many of the student's siblings are enrolled in other universities, Penn will continue to consider that factor in its calculation of demonstrated need. Additionally, the number of members in a student’s household who are in college will not be factored into the Student Aid Index of the FASFA. These changes apply to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Richards said that with the streamlined form, the federal government can still obtain the necessary financial information to determine a student’s eligibility for federal funds.

“You can get a good enough picture of a family’s financial circumstances with a small number of questions,” Richards said. “No one ever needed that much information in the first place. The fact that they were asking 108 questions was deemed excessive.”

Incoming College first-year Cristiah Denise Somoray said that the new form was simpler than she expected. She said that she filled out her financial aid application and FASFA form by herself, as her parents are from the Philippines and are not familiar with the financial aid process in the United States.

“I knew that they were shortening the FASFA, but I wasn’t expecting it to be that short. It definitely made me think, ‘Did I completely miss something, or did I fill this out wrong?’ because it flew by so quickly,” Somoray said.

In contrast, incoming College first-year Abby Hyken said that that completing the form was still a lengthy process. 

“I remember hearing from older friends that it was such a long and tedious process,” Hyken said. “I still feel like it took a considerable amount of time. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like before they simplified it.” 

Unlike Penn, some universities that only package federal aid for students use the FASFA as the sole source of information to learn more about a student’s financial need. Richards said that students who apply to these institutions within the early decision period may not know what aid they are eligible for and thus can struggle deciding which school to commit to.

Incoming College first year Suyash Dwivedi told the DP that he has not yet received his financial aid packages from schools that he applied to within his home state of Georgia. Instead, he relied on online financial aid calculators to estimate how much he would receive from those institutions.

Dwivedi said that it gave him a sense of “security” to know that he would be “getting aid for sure” from Penn’s institutional budget.

The undergraduate financial aid budget for the 2023-2024 academic year was $286 million. The financial aid budget for 2024-2025 will be announced at the University Board of Trustees meeting from Feb. 29 - March 1.

Even though the FASFA will not change the amount of financial aid that a student will receive, Richards emphasized the importance of filling out the form.

“It’s definitely not of no consequence to students, because the institution relies on having access to that federal aid to add into financial aid packages,” Richards said. “When students do receive federal aid, that frees up the institutional aid that can be distributed to more students.”

SRFS is partnering with the various schools to develop a series of workshops and host drop-in sessions for students who want help with the FASFA. 

“We’re trying to tackle it from a lot of different angles to make sure that if anyone is having a problem, that there’s a way to get them help,” Richards said. “We’re in a position to be able to guarantee to students that yes, we will meet your financial need, and yes, we can tell you what that is right now.”