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This 2024-2025 college application year is one for the books…

We (schools, parents and especially students) have endured delay after delay for the newly overhauled FAFSA- the Federal form for applying for financial aid, which the government uses to determine student eligibility for financial aid and schools also use to determine how they will award their own funds.

The most recent delay coming this week when the Department of Education announced, the day before the ISIRS (Institutional Student Information Records) were supposed to start arriving at schools, that they were in fact, not going to start arriving at schools until “the first half of March”. This means that for anyone who completed a FAFSA, schools are not going to have those records to start reviewing until at least mid-March. This cuts the time even more and SIGNICANTLY for financial aid offices, who will need to scramble to review the FAFSA forms and try to get their financial aid offer letters out to freshman applicants in time to decide on where to go to college by May 1. A decision which for many families, depends in large part on how much it will cost the family out of their pocket after any merit scholarships and financial aid. Families will be receiving these letters months later than usual this year.

Some of the issues are also that some students and parents are having difficulty accessing and signing the form. Due to the processing delays, there is also the issue of not being able to correct the form until the records are processed and are sent to the schools. So, if you know you have made a mistake, you cannot correct it for another few weeks at least.

First, for freshmen applying to college for fall of 2024, this creates an extra layer of uncertainty and stress, estimating that they will not know how much aid they will receive and how much they will need to pay to attend the schools on their list until likely past April 1. For their parents, even greater stress.

Second, for students returning to college, they need to know if their aid package will change, based on the overhaul in the Department of Education’s formula on the brand new FAFSA this year. For example, the loss of the “sibling discount” for families having more than one child in college at the same time.

Ways You Can Take Advantage of the Extra Time:

  • Apply for private scholarships. This is the time they are open. Search locally, with your high school guidance office and qualified search sites. See my links
  • Consider appealing for more merit scholarship money. If you have offers from competing schools, or if you know your school offers higher merit scholarships, you may have a good chance at an appeal. Schools still need to secure enrollment for their fall class of students during these delays, and if there is a chance for an applicant to deposit early, they may have incentive to increase the offer.
  • If you have extenuating circumstances, don’t wait to reach out to the financial aid offices. If you have had situation over the past year that may have affected your finances, such as a job loss, you will want to reach out the financial aid offices to ask about their process for appeals if it is not clear on their website, so that you can be prepared to send documentation when they are ready to receive it.
  • Do some assessment of your financial plan to pay for college. Although you may not have the net cost confirmed for any of your schools. Start planning for what resources you will be using to cover out of pocket costs for college over the next 4 years and make a list. Will you be using a 529? Savings? Making payments monthly to the school? Borrowing? Or a combination of the above? Start planning out what you have for resources so that when you begin getting final offers from the schools, you will know how your finances match up.

Check the websites for your school list:

Decision Dates: Some schools have or are considering changing their decision date of May 1 this year due to the FAFSA delays.

Be sure to check all the websites for the schools on your list to see if they have extended their May 1 decision to commit date.

Financial Aid process: Some schools may have created their own preliminary financial aid form due to the Department of Education delay of the FAFSA. Also, schools that use the CSS Profile (between 250-300 schools) may be sending out offers ahead of receiving the FAFSA records for applicants, due to the fact that the CSS Profile form has not changed and opened in October.

Be sure to check the financial aid pages of your school websites to see if your schools have created and require new forms or are using the CSS Profile due to the FAFSA delays.

The bottom line is that the 2020 Congressional laws passed that required significant changes to the FAFSA form with the intention of making more students eligible for aid and the form completion easier has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for college students and families for the 2024-2025 year as the rollout has been anything but smooth.

In light of these delays of information – essentially knowing the cost you will pay out of pocket for each school on your list – which is crucial for most families in order to decide on college, some families may decide not to apply for financial aid, thus leaving money on the table and spending more out of their pockets next year. Some schools require the FAFSA form to award their merit scholarships and/or some free grant money that is sometimes even offered to those applicants who are not eligible for need-based financial aid by the FAFSA form, in order to entice students to commit.

Of course, as in my previous articles, my advice is to weather the storm, and do the form and be more vigilant than ever staying on top of deadlines and information gathering in this last sprint in your college decision. It will be worth it in the end.