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Expert Answers Counselors and Students Need About FAFSA Delays

The state of the FAFSA this year has been stressful for college-bound students. Here are some expert answers to common questions they may have about it.

High school counselors across the country are likely hearing the same question from their college-bound seniors: Why is the FAFSA so delayed and what does it mean for my financial aid this fall? The US Department of Education has been working for several years on making the financial aid form shorter and easier to complete for most students and their families—but as we all know, big changes like this rarely go to plan. Due to many unforeseen circumstances with the release of the revised application, the subsequent processes have fallen behind, leaving many students and parents frustrated and wondering about the state of their financial aid packages for the upcoming academic year.

CollegeXpress has teamed up with some of our in-house financial aid experts at our parent company, Carnegie, to answer some of the top questions about this year’s FAFSA situation to the best of their knowledge to help parents and counselors assuage the stressors and fears of rising college students. Check out their advice below and be sure to share it with your network!

What to know about financial aid package notifications

When will students receive notifications and details regarding financial aid packages, including processing timelines, approved amounts, and potential delays impacting the receipt of aid offer letters from colleges?

It’s been frustrating for students and parents to do their part by completing the FAFSA but not have timely access to award information. Colleges just started receiving FAFSA information from the US Department of Education around mid-March, but unfortunately, they’re receiving only very limited numbers of FAFSA data records. In addition, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that schools have been dealing with errors in Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) sent by the FAFSA, which also take time to correct—therefore delaying the process further. Since many schools are waiting until they have more data, federal financial aid will not be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis this year as it has in the past. As for knowing when students will have more information about certain financial aid, there are a few different types that might have different timelines: 

  • Merit scholarships: Students should already be checking for merit scholarships they’re eligible for since many institutions use only the information provided in college applications to determine eligibility. They communicate those scholarship decisions either in admission letters or separately. Each institution differs, so remind students to check schools’ admission and aid web pages to see notification timelines for scholarships and see if they missed an email. 
  • Institutional need-based aid: This type of aid notification is more likely to be delayed, although some institutions have tried to communicate estimated need-based aid offers to students. If this type of aid is available, students have probably received an email with opportunities to complete a form or request an estimate.
  • Federal and state need-based aid: Colleges and universities will do their best to give information on eligibility for federal student aid like Pell Grants, Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, and state grants as soon as possible—some are even trying to provide estimates for this type of aid as well. 

Related: The Most Important Things to Know About Upcoming FAFSA Changes

What to know about financial aid application status

How can students verify the completion status of their FAFSA and ensure all necessary steps are taken, including submission to colleges and addressing any technical issues affecting the process and confirmation timeline?

Unless the college(s) specifically request more information from a student (in which case, they’ll hear from them most likely by email), they don’t need to send anything to a school regarding the FAFSA and the status of its submission. For trouble submitting applications or other technical issues related to the FAFSA, they can use the 2024–2025 FAFSA Help page to resolve the issue(s) as soon as they can to ensure their forms are submitted. Unfortunately, until colleges and universities receive the FAFSA data, financial aid offices at those institutions will not be able to directly assist students with any corrections or troubleshooting. 

Can students make updates or corrections on their FAFSA, and what impact will this have on processing time and potential delays? Can they add or modify schools after submission even if their FAFSA is under review?

When students complete the FAFSA, they are given the opportunity to choose schools to receive their information. The new 2024–2025 online form allows up to 20 school codes to be submitted; if students want to add a new school code, make sure they remove any schools they are no longer interested in attending. The ability to make certain updates or corrections to a submitted and processed 2024–2025 FAFSA form is limited for now, according to the Department of Education as of mid-March 2024—but they do report students will have the ability "in the first half of April" (previously reported as “later in March.”)

Related: The Best Advice and Resources for Filling Out the FAFSA

What to know about costs, loans, scholarships, and grants

How do students figure out college costs and loans while waiting for their FAFSA results?

Once institutions are able to provide financial aid packages to admitted students, they should include detailed information about anticipated costs for attendance at that institution in 2024–2025 and different types of aid, including loans. While students wait for that information, they can look at each institution’s website for the cost of attendance. Some colleges and universities may not have published their 2024–2025 costs yet, but there’s a good chance that they’ll be similar to 2023–2024, which will be published on the institution’s website—they just need to add a typical annual cost increase of about 2%–5%. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it will get them most of the way to their expected college costs. 

Will delays in FAFSA processing affect loan disbursements as well as awards for college tuition like scholarships and state-funded grants?

Schools, state granting agencies, and external scholarship organizations are very much aware of this year’s FAFSA delays and the impact to families currently in the college decision process. If students have questions about potential extensions to scholarship deadlines, it’s always best to contact the sponsor directly because those policies will differ from organization to organization. For state grants, state agencies and institutions will be working hard to get this information to them as soon as possible, but until those agencies and schools receive FAFSA information, they are limited in what they can do—and unfortunately, so are your students. Over the next few weeks (late March into early April), there will hopefully be significant progress in schools and state agencies receiving FAFSA records, processing them, and acting on them to communicate financial aid information to students and families, which will then allow them to take next steps on loans and other forms of aid. 

How to help students in unique situations

Some students are worried about deciding what college to attend because they don’t know what they can afford; have there been any other updates about decision deadlines for colleges?

Many colleges and universities have moved their deposit deadlines in response to the FAFSA and financial aid delays. There’s an updated list of institutions that have moved their deadlines courtesy of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. If students are concerned about not having enough time between receiving their financial aid package and a school’s decision deadline, encourage them to communicate that to their institution(s) by email and ask about potential deposit deadline extensions. Institutions understand that these delays are putting students and parents in a difficult position and may be flexible in extending deadlines for those who need it. 

Will the FAFSA delays impact all financial aid results and decisions, including international students who applied with the CSS Profile?

Not necessarily! The CSS Profile has been unaffected, and many institutions that use this aid form have been able to communicate scholarship and financial aid offers to students based on that information—although, it’s important to note that financial aid communication for Regular Decision admits who submit the CSS Profile is often, even in a year unaffected by FAFSA delays, not communicated until late March into early April. If international students have questions about a specific institution and their timeline for sending award information, we recommend they contact that institution’s admission or financial aid office directly.

Did they update the inflation issue when calculating the Student Aid Index (SAI)?

Yes, the Department of Education has made the required updates to the Income Protection Allowance and Asset Protection Allowance tables to account for inflation beginning in late January, and those updates should be reflected in the SAIs (formally known as Estimated Family Contribution [EFC]) provided to colleges and universities by the Department of Education beginning in March 2024. 

Related: Important FAFSA Updates for Students With Divorced or Separated Parents

This college admission season has been more stressful for students and families for a lot of reasons. We commend counselors for doing their part to help keep students on track and focused during a largely uncertain and uncontrollable time. The light is at the end of the tunnel, and they are almost on their way to college. You can see them through to the end despite these bumps in the road!

For more helpful advice to share with your students on all things college costs, check out our Financial Aid section.

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