FAFSA updates for coronavirus-related financial changes

A student with a dog in her lap takes notes about her financial aid.

Learn about steps to create a financial aid action plan if your family’s finances have changed for the 2021–2022 school year.

Our College & COVID-19 series is part of our commitment to students and families during this time of uncertainty. Our goal with this series is to provide the resources, information, and guidance you need to help you successfully continue your college journey.


The coronavirus pandemic has brought about unprecedented challenges for students and their families. Even as the U.S. recovers economically, your family’s financial situation may be substantially different from when you filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form last year, especially since this year’s FAFSA (for academic year 2021–2022) will rely on 2019 tax information.

Here are some tips that could help you and your family address any changes to your financial situation.

Complete the FAFSA 2021 form, if you haven’t already

The FAFSA for academic year 2021–2022 closes on June 30, 2021, so whether you’re a high school senior heading to college or a returning college student, you’ve probably completed your FAFSA 2021 form and received your Student Aid Report (SAR). The next opportunity to complete the FAFSA will be on October 1, 2021, for the 2022–2023 school year.

If you have not completed the FAFSA form, there’s still time to act, even if your financial situation has changed since filing your most recent individual income tax return. The U.S. Department of Education advises you to “complete the FAFSA questions as instructed on the application, submit your FAFSA form, then contact the school you plan to attend and discuss your current situation with the financial aid office.”

To learn more about the FAFSA and where it fits in your overall plan to pay for college, check out “Your 5 step guide to paying for college.” The article provides an overview of applying for financial aid and scholarships and information on the cost of college and private student loans.

Know that you can only update the basics on the FAFSA form

Most information on your FAFSA form cannot be updated once you’ve submitted it — the U.S. Department of Education guidelines specify that the information must reflect income reported on the previous year’s tax returns. For example, if you spent some of your savings after filing the FAFSA form, you cannot update your information to show a change in that amount.

So, after you have signed and submitted your FAFSA form, you can only update basics such as your contact information, the number of people in your household, your marital status, and which schools you want to have access to your FAFSA.

Be aware of relevant FAFSA changes

New FAFSA changes for the 2021–2022 academic year could affect the way you and your family plan to pay for college. This is what you need to know now.

  • The income threshold for an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of zero increased from $26,000 to $27,000. If you and your family have an EFC of zero, that means you’ll be able to receive the maximum amount of aid.
  • The IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which populates your tax information from the IRS to your FAFSA, will automatically complete the question about whether you or your family filed a Schedule 1 tax form — saving you some effort.
  • Screenshots were added to the FAFSA help page so you can be more confident in your answers to specific questions.

For academic year 2022–2023, more sweeping changes will go into effect. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, will rename the EFC to “Student Aid Index,” expand Pell Grant eligibility, and prohibit schools from having a policy of automatically denying all financial aid appeals. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has done a deep dive into this act’s policies and what they mean for students, and you can look at our story on other recent policies affecting students.

Contact your school’s financial aid office

If you had planned to attend a certain university or college, but the costs are now out of reach, contact the school’s financial aid office or visit their website to see what may still be possible.

Many universities have created online resources for coronavirus-related financial aid requests. You can also contact the financial aid officers at your chosen school, including via email, to alert them about changes to your financial situation and to see if they can help. Many of these professionals are available to answer your questions and help you stay on track toward your graduation goals.

CollegeSTEPS has additional recommendations on comparing and appealing financial aid offers and on action steps if your financial aid award changes from past years’ awards.

Investigate other alternatives

High school students, if your financial situation has changed and your chosen school is unwilling or unable to restructure your financial aid, you may want to revisit other schools that accepted you for admission. Is there a school closer to home where you might end up spending less on travel or housing? How about a school that is willing to restructure financial aid for you to keep costs within your reach?

You can easily compare total college costs by using a tool such as Net Price Calculator (NPC) or Tuition Tracker. For more details about how to research, compare, and choose what’s right for you, see our story on the financial impacts of changing your college plans.

Want to read more about completing the FAFSA?

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