Eui Young Kim, Contributing Photographer
The most recent federal stimulus package includes sweeping changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, that Yale admissions and financial aid representatives say will simplify the process for students on financial aid at Yale College.
The FAFSA is used by college applicants to estimate the share of financial aid that they can expect to receive and to help connect applicants to federal loan and grant opportunities. But for Yale applicants, the FAFSA determines whether students qualify for federal loans or Pell Grants and does not provide an accurate estimate of a student’s financial aid package. The FAFSA changes will lessen the amount of extraneous information Yale students have to fill out, as the College’s financial aid office only uses FAFSA information to determine eligibility for federal aid, not University-provided aid.
The December bill cut the FAFSA form down from eight pages and 108 questions to two pages and no more than 33 questions, in an attempt to simplify and streamline the process, according to then-Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the main sponsor of the bill. The changes will take effect on July 1, 2023.
Another large-scale change to the FAFSA includes the renaming of the Expected Family Contribution estimate. The EFC is a value calculated via the FAFSA that estimates how much aid a family can expect to receive. However, because most colleges either include loans in their aid packages or use their own formula to determine aid, the EFC is often inaccurate. The EFC will be renamed the “student aid index” to clarify that the calculated number is not the exact amount that a family will be required to pay but rather an estimate that can indicate if one is eligible for federal aid such as Pell Grants.
“Calculating and explaining need-based financial aid is — by its nature — complicated,” Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan wrote in a statement to the News. “I am optimistic that these sensible changes at the federal level will help increase understanding of the process generally and help more families see that a Yale College education is truly affordable for everyone.”
Yale College uses its own formula to generate need-based aid packages, rather than the formula used on the FAFSA. For this reason, Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Scott Wallace-Juedes told the News that the elimination of the EFC will be helpful for Yale applicants, as the EFC does not align with the packages that students receive. According to Wallace-Juedes, Yale’s estimated cost is lower than the EFC calculations in most cases.
Yale College has its own online calculator that applicants can use to estimate their cost of attendance, instead of relying solely on FAFSA metrics.
“The term Expected Family Contribution — as it has been calculated and presented via the FAFSA — has been neither intuitive nor illuminating for families trying to understand what they are likely to pay for college,” Wallace-Juedes told the News. “I think the new term ‘student aid index’ captures what the FAFSA actually calculates better than ‘expected family contribution.’”
Wallace-Juedes told the News that for Yale applicants, the FAFSA is only indicative of whether a student can qualify for federal loans or Pell Grants. To qualify for Yale financial aid, students must fill out a separate form — the CSS profile — which Yale uses to determine the size of a student’s financial aid package. The financial aid office can add Pell Grants to one’s package if a student qualifies via the FAFSA.
Because Yale uses the FAFSA solely to determine if one is eligible for Pell Grants, Wallace-Juedes said that he welcomes the shortening of the form, as it will keep students from needing to fill out extra information that Yale does not use.
“Outside of [Pell Grants,] the FAFSA has little to do and it does not correlate with your overall financial aid package from Yale specifically,” Wallace-Juedes said. “So I think for me, this is exactly the benefit of FAFSA simplification. We will still use our need analysis as we have done in the past; we will still value the same things that Yale has valued in the past and that we have taken into account. But this will really simplify the process.”
Yamil Rivas ’23, a QuestBridge and Gates Scholar who attends Yale with a $0 parent share financial aid package, told the News that these changes are “very good,” as she recalls being mystified by the FAFSA while applying to college. Rivas took part in a video campaign by the state of Rhode Island in which she explained in Spanish how to fill out the FAFSA because so many members of her majority-Hispanic community struggled to complete the form.
Rivas recalled how she would see members of her community give up on the idea of attending college because of the difficulty of applying for aid through the FAFSA. She told the News that she hopes the changes to the FAFSA will help mitigate that issue.
“[The current FAFSA] is just so impossible,” Rivas said. “And it’s most inaccessible to the communities and the people that actually need to fill it out, and need to fill it out right and need it to do its job to get federal aid. … With these FAFSA changes, there’s still going to be huge roadblocks, but the process did become way easier, and this feat became slightly less insurmountable.”
The FAFSA has been in use since 1992.
Amelia Davidson | firstname.lastname@example.org