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Expert Answers for Parents and Students About FAFSA Delays

The state of the FAFSA this year has been stressful for students and their families. Here are expert answers they need to the questions everyone is asking.

Parents of college-bound students across the country are likely asking themselves the same question right now: Why is the FAFSA so delayed and what does it mean for my student’s 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 parents—but as we all know, big updates 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 families 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 assuage the stressors and fears of your rising college students. Check out their answers to questions from real students and parents below!

What to know about financial aid status and 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?

We know it has been frustrating for students and parents to do their part by completing the FAFSA but not have timely access to award information. Trust us, admission and financial aid offices at colleges and universities are just as frustrated because providing this information accurately and on time to you is how they meet their enrollment goals. Colleges just started receiving FAFSA information around mid-March, but unfortunately, they’re receiving only very limited numbers of FAFSA data records.

Because of the FAFSA delays this year, institutions are testing and fixing errors in their processing systems on a much shorter timeline. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that schools have been dealing with a lot of errors in student records sent by the FAFSA, delaying the process even further. As for knowing when you’ll have more information about different types of aid, eligibility for federal student aid like Pell Grants, Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, and state grants depends on information from the FAFSA. Colleges and universities will do their best to share that information as soon as possible—some are even trying to provide estimates for families. However, many schools are waiting until they have more data, so aid will not be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis this year as it has in the past.

Should my student get in contact with college financial aid offices?

Most of the colleges and universities that we work with are hopeful they will have full financial aid packages (including all types of aid) communicated to you and your student by mid-April, but they can only process the information as quickly as they receive it from the Department of Education. The faster they receive FAFSA records, the faster they can process them and give you the information you need. However, institutions will not have complete information on all FAFSAs until at least several weeks from now as they work through errors and delayed processing. If you have a question about a specific institution’s timeline, we recommend reviewing their admission and aid websites and contacting them directly by email or phone.

How can we verify the completion status of my teen’s 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 your 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. The information you submitted as part of the FAFSA will automatically be provided to the college in the form of an Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR)—which the Department of Education just started making available to institutions earlier this month. For trouble submitting applications or other technical issues related to the FAFSA, use the 2024–2025 FAFSA Help page to resolve the problem(s) as soon as you can to ensure your student’s forms are submitted.

Can my student 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 Most Important Things to Know About Upcoming FAFSA Changes

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 you and your teen are waiting for that information, you 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—just add a typical annual cost increase of about 2%–5%. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it will get you most of the way to your expected college costs. 

Will delays in FAFSA processing affect loan disbursements as well as awards for college tuition like scholarships and state-funded grants? What steps should I take in response to prolonged FAFSA delays, particularly if my family's income exceeds eligibility thresholds or other circumstances that may affect these additional forms of aid? 

Schools, state granting agencies, and external scholarship organizations are very much aware of this year’s FAFSA delays and the impact on 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 you. 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 families, which will then allow you to take next steps on loans and other forms of aid. 

Related: 5 Things Parents Need to Know About the FAFSA

Answers to help ease everyone’s stress

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 your student is concerned about not having enough time between receiving your financial aid package and a decision deadline, make sure they 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. 

My student submitted the FAFSA in January; will the delays affect the money showing up in their student account to pay their deposit and costs for the fall semester?

Like we said, colleges and universities will do their best to process FAFSA information as soon as they receive it. While it may be delayed compared to previous years, this processing should be complete well before the beginning of the 2024–2025 academic year; yet, most institutions will not actually disburse financial aid based on the FAFSA until the start of the fall term or immediately prior. Ultimately, students will have their financial aid in time for the fall and, with delayed decision deadlines, likely in time to make a deposit. There are some exceptions for students enrolling in a summer 2024 term. If you’re concerned about a specific situation like summer enrollment and aid disbursement, again, we recommend contacting the institution(s) 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: Financial Transparency: The FAFSA, Your Student, and You

We know this college admission season has been more stressful than the average year for you and your student, but trust in the process and know they will receive their financial aid offers in due time. Your student has a bright future ahead, and everybody is in the same boat waiting for more concrete answers, so hang in there!

While you’re (im)patiently waiting for your FAFSA results, see if there’s anything else you can assist your teen with in the meantime using Our Best Advice for Parents Helping Students Plan for College.

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