FAFSA Delay Impacts Senior College Decisions

by Katie Ng ‘24

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows secondary education students and incoming secondary education students to apply for and receive financial aid when applying to colleges. Students fill out the application by inputting their family’s income data and the Department of Education reviews the information to determine the student’s eligibility for financial aid. The United States Department of Education would have sent out the FAFSA data to colleges in January but because of an error, it could not send out the data until March. The delay is causing uncertainty for many college-bound seniors and their parents in MCPS and around the country.

Normally, FAFSA becomes available in October. In 2023, it was unavailable until December because Congress ordered the Department of Education to change the FAFSA. In response, the Department of Education tweaked the way it calculates eligibility and simplified the FAFSA form, so that there are now fewer questions. The form is also now integrated with the IRS to make it easier to access financial information instead of having to use a tax return form.
However, the Department of Education made a significant math error that would have cost $1.8 billion dollars in financial aid. The mistake would have made families appear to have a higher income, which would have deprived lower income students of federal financial aid as well as possibly discouraged them from seeking a secondary education.

As a result, colleges cannot determine what financial aid students receive and cannot send out offers until April, which is incredibly late. This particular setback could impact whether a student attends the college of their choice or even college at all. May 1 is the traditional deadline for college decisions, so unless colleges push the deadline back, families will have less than a month to make college decisions, which puts them in a tight position to quickly make a decision.
“It’s unfortunate that these delays could impact whether a prospective student goes to college at all this fall, or at the very least where they go,” said Brad Barnett, the financial aid director at James Madison University in an NPR article.

Some colleges across the country will push back their deadlines for the FAFSA, according to Sherwood College and Career Information Coordinator Jenny Davis. She shared that a few seniors voiced concerns about their college decisions but that college representatives say colleges are working with applicants. Davis will send out any resources she receives on Canvas and update the Sherwood College and Career website as soon as she recieves new information.

Davis also emphasized how she strongly recommends that students look for numerous avenues to pay for college due to the problems caused by the FAFSA delays. “Students should not solely rely on the FAFSA to assist with college payments. There are other avenues to receive financial aid: the institutions’ merit aid, applying to scholarships, grants, etc. Having in depth conversations within your family about what you can really afford, are crucial,” said Davis.