Hanging in the FAFSA waiting room? What to do to prepare as you wait for your turn.

Editor's note: USA TODAY is updating this previously published story with more details on the soft launch of the new FAFSA form for the school year 2024-25.

The long-awaited simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to request financial help for the 2024-25 year is finally here -- though it may not have seemed like it for millions of Americans over the long New Year's holiday weekend.

The Department of Education officially "soft" launched the new FAFSA form on December 30 last weekend, about three months later than its usual Oct. 1 date, but only for 30 minutes, according to a Department of Education spokesperson on Tuesday. The application was also available for another 30 minutes on December 31 and two hours on January 1, the spokesperson said.

It's now open again periodically, with a waiting room to manage site volume and capacity, the spokesperson said.


The soft launch, which means that the form is available periodically, allows the government to "monitor and respond in real time to any potential issues impacting the applicant experience," according to the Federal Student Aid website.

In the two 30-minute windows the application was open on December 30 and 31, "thousands of applications were successfully submitted," the spokesperson said. On January 1 during the two-hour window, "over 30,000 applications were successfully submitted, and over 100,000 applications are in progress," they said, noting "in progress" generally means a user has completed their portion of the form and a contributor will need to complete their portion.

With tens of millions of students expected to complete FAFSA but only tens of thousands so far able to do so -- three months later than usual -- "even by soft-launch standards, this weekend’s rollout was challenging and students, families, and financial aid administrators who have been waiting for this release for months are understandably frustrated," said Justin Draeger, president of nonprofit National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Still, Federal Student Aid believes everyone will be able to complete the form on time. "You will have plenty of time to complete the FAFSA form," the website reads. "If you do submit your form during the soft launch, your information will be saved, and you won’t need to resubmit your form or any related information. If your form is unavailable when you or your family members try to access it, please try again later."

About 18 million FAFSAs were submitted during the 2020-21 application cycle, according to Federal Student Aid data.

For the 2024-25 school year, FAFSA will be reduced to just 36 questions from 108, including detailed financial information, and it will be easier to import income data from tax records. Along with the pared-down form, the Department of Education changed its formulas so, among other things, more students would be awarded Pell Grants, which don't have to be repaid. It also will no longer include a sibling discount so families with more than one child in college may get less aid.

The goal of the new FAFSA form is to make it easier for students and families to get money to pay for school. Studies show millions of students who are eligible for financial aid don't complete the application for various reasons and miss out on billions of dollars for school. Part of the solution to get more people to apply was to simplify the process and make more people eligible for grants. But the lateness in getting it out may have complicated things for those who have to complete it this year. Schools won't even receive any information they need to determine aid until the end of January, the Department of Education said.

Since no other deadlines for submission or decisions have been moved back, the entire process has been compressed, making it more important than ever to stay calm, focused, organized and get everything right the first time or risk leaving money on the table.

Here are some of what to expect and tips to help maximize your time and chances to get every penny you can for school:

  • Less time, maybe less support. Due to the shortened timeline, students and families not only have less time to complete FAFSA but may not get as much help as they normally would. So, make sure you know the requirements of schools you’re interested in. “Those states with FAFSA completion as a high school graduation requirement will be operating under immense pressure to support students in a timely manner and ensure all requirements are met," the National College Attainment Network warned in a statement in November.

  • Questions, additions and corrections. If you need to make corrections or additions, answer school questions, or provide more information, you won't be able to until February at the earliest, further delaying financial aid offers, said Shannon Vasconcelos, Bright Horizons college coach, a unit of childcare operator Bright Horizons. So, make sure “to get all your ducks in a row upfront,” she said. “Prepare and send any information upfront if you have special circumstances -- if the tax year 2022 information for the 2024-25 FAFSA is no longer representative of your financial situation. There’s no time for a lot of back and forth." Also, send your information to all the schools you’re even just considering so there’s no delay if you decide to apply. If you don’t, the school just won’t do anything with information and there’s no harm.

  • State aid. The new FAFSA won’t include links to state aid applications this year. Most states don’t require a separate form for state aid, but applicants in Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont do. You’ll have to find and complete the state application or potentially lose out, Vasconcelos said.

  • FSA IDs. This year, “you need it to get started and it could be a three-day processing time to get it confirmed,” Vasconcelos said. The student needs one and at least one parent, depending on whether taxes are filed jointly or separately if the student is a dependent. Email addresses or mobile phone numbers are required.

  • Scams. Remember, you never have to pay anyone to help you with student loans or to complete FAFSA. Also, check the loan servicing company you're working with is legit and always complete your form at the official Federal Student Aid website. You can find more tips on how to detect fraud and scams at the Federal Student Aid site.

What is a CSS profile? Here's why you should fill out this application for aid as well

New FAFSA: How is the FAFSA going to change? How it'll mean less financial aid for some.

Maybe not so simple: A simpler FAFSA's coming. But it won't necessarily make getting money easier. Here's why.

Late coming: FAFSA won't be available Oct 1. The simpler 2024-25 application will be ready in December.

Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday.

Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FAFSA soft launches but is still inaccessible for millions. Here's why