FAFSA Setback Could Delay Students’ College Choices

By: Nancy Bilyeau · February 02, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

Longer Wait

The Department of Education announced a two month delay in sending students’ completed applications for financial aid to their desired colleges, thrusting some prospective students for the 2024/2025 academic year into limbo as the deadline approaches for their picking a college or university.

In past years, schools received student data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in late fall or early winter. By March, students received their financial aid award letters from schools, offering the packages and were expected to commit to a college by May 1. But all this has been thrown off course this year.

Critics lambasted the delay, calling it devastating, and the most consequential setback, particularly for lower-income students and first-generation applicants.

Correcting Errors in the “New” FAFSA

In response to criticism that the FAFSA form was too cumbersome for students and their families, the DOE announced last year the creation of a “simplified, redesigned, and streamlined” FAFSA form for the 2024/2025 academic year. However, it was not available until December 31, 2023. Historically, the form has been ready for students to fill out in October of each year.

The new form is supposed to be easier to understand and allow applicants to securely transfer federal tax information directly from the IRS. According to the DOE, more than three million students have successfully completed their FAFSA forms so far for the 2024/2025 academic year.

But on January 31, the DOE said there would be a substantial delay in the process because of a necessary change in adjusting for inflation in the aid formula.

“The updated [inflation] tables will allow students to benefit from an additional $1.8 billion in aid and ensure that all students can access the maximum financial aid they are eligible for,” according to the DOE statement.

Students Scrambling to Adjust

Some observers predict that colleges’ customary May 1 student commitment deadlines could be pushed back to June or even July in the wake of the FAFSA delay.

While the FAFSA problems are being solved, students are advised to research their targeted schools as much as they can. This means when the colleges finally send offers with proposed financial aid packages to prospective students, the students will be able to move more quickly.

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