As 2023 begins, there are several major changes that will impact the college admissions landscape this year and beyond. Below are descriptions of four of them, along with one wildcard.
Pell Grant Increase
For students and families relying on need-based financial aid, the Pell Grant increase is welcome news. The maximum grant is increasing by 7.2% – $500, for a total of $7,395 per year.
Changes to the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is still a beast to complete, just not as big of one. The FAFSA Simplification Act overhauled the form and it now has 36 questions, down from over 100. In addition, applicants will no longer have to answer questions about drug convictions or choose a specific (male or female) gender. Registering for the Selective Service is not a requirement anymore, and incarcerated students can now qualify for the Pell Grant. These changes took effect with the FAFSA which became available on October 1, 2022, which people are using to apply for aid for the 2023-2024 school year.
Additional changes will go into effect when families apply for aid for the 2024-2025 school year, which they can do starting on October 1, 2023. The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is being replaced with a Student Aid Index (SAI). The EFC was the dollar amount a family was expected to pay for college in the upcoming school year. Often, the amount was much higher than a family could actually afford. Also, the word “expected” made many parents feel it was incumbent upon them to pay that amount for their child’s college education. The SAI is meant to focus instead on how much aid a student will receive. However, the formulas used to calculate EFC and SAI are basically the same, so this change may not be very impactful.
Another major difference will be for families with multiple students in college at the same time. In the past, the parent contribution was divided by the number of family members in college. This will no longer be the case. Unfortunately, middle and higher income families with more than one child attending college will receive less help.
There will also be a change that affects divorced parents. Rather than the custodial parent being the one with whom the student lived most often during the year, it will be the parent who provided the most financial support to the student. This could be problematic if there is a large discrepancy in divorced parents’ income.
The Digital SAT
While standardized testing remains optional at the majority of colleges, many students continue to take the exams and to use good to great scores to enhance their applications. For those taking the SAT, get ready to ditch your pencil. The digital SAT will launch in March 2023 for international students and March 2024 for students in the U.S.
Changes to the structure of the test are also coming. The test will be shorter – two hours instead of three. Perhaps the most impactful change is that the new SAT will be adaptive, which means the questions will get easier or harder based on a student’s answers. Each main section (Math and Reading/Writing) will be divided into two modules. If a student doesn’t do well enough on the first module, moving on to the “harder” version of the second module is impossible, as is a great score.
Supreme Court Cases
The Supreme Court is considering two cases involving the use of race in college admissions. Depending on the Court’s decisions, colleges may no longer be able to consider race in admissions decisions, and this could pave the way for the elimination of legacy admissions as well. For more information, see this blog post.
The Robot in the Room
There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the academic community over the launch of Chat GPT, an artificial intelligence program which can answer college (as well as any other) essay prompts. Does it produce stand-out essays? No. Are they better than average? Probably. Does this mean students will stop writing their own essays? That’s the big unknown. Already, students have access to programs such as Grammarly and Microsoft Editor. And, many hire writing coaches who may or may not do more than simply edit essays. In addition, even if a student writes an essay entirely on their own, there are no fact checkers in college admissions offices. Perhaps the story an applicant tells is true, perhaps it is a complete fabrication. So, if the college essay is going to remain an important factor in admissions, something probably needs to shift.
As the year progresses, it will be interesting to see how these and other college admissions changes develop.