Understanding the FAFSA Delays in 2024

For millions of students, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) provides financial aid opportunities to help them pay for college and higher education. However, a recent snag in the system after simplifying the annual application form has left schools waiting longer than usual to receive families’ financial aid information. We’ll dive deeper into the causes for the delay, its impacts on financial aid offices at colleges and universities, as well as impacts on families awaiting their financial aid award offers.

Why was the FAFSA updated?

Congress passed laws in 2019 and 2020 that mandated the Department of Education to overhaul and simplify the FAFSA process. The changes were intended to make the application simpler and help more low-income students become eligible for financial aid.

Why was there a delay accessing the FAFSA?

Typically, the FAFSA opens every year on October 1st, but the FAFSA for the 2024-2025 academic year did not open until the end of December 2023 to make the necessary congressional updates. The opening was a “soft launch” with limited application availability. There were additional glitches that were identified in January 2024, which delayed the delivery of submitted FAFSA information transferred to colleges and universities even further into March 2024 to make financial aid decisions and issue financial aid award letters to accepted students.

The FAFSA delay’s impact on students and families

Traditionally, schools rely on timely FAFSA data to assess students’ financial needs and allocate aid resources accordingly. Some aid is given out on a first come, first served basis. However, implementation hiccups and unforeseen technical glitches have led to significant delays in the transmission of this vital information from the Department of Education to the higher education institutions, leaving schools and their students on hold about their actual cost of attending college in the 2024-25 academic year.

At the heart of the FAFSA delay are prospective students eagerly awaiting news of their financial aid awards to choose a school. For many families, financial assistance in the form of grants, scholarships, work, and loans is what enables access to higher education. The uncertainty surrounding the timing of receiving financial aid award letters can add stress to an already daunting college application process.

Schools are working vigilantly to figure out how the data delay will impact the admissions process and potentially delay “National College Decision Day”, which occurs on May 1st every year for many colleges. Decision day is typically when students need to notify schools of their enrollment decision and submit their deposit.

Colleges and universities will likely need to modify or extend their deadlines for National College Decision Day this year. For example, Widener University in Pennsylvania was one of the first schools to announce that it will not follow to the May 1st deadline. More schools are likely to follow, but may have different deadlines, so be sure to check with each school where you were accepted.

Looking ahead

As students, families, and schools navigate the FAFSA changes and their impacts this year, it’s important to consider every option for financing higher education expenses. That includes maximizing scholarships and grants, as well as considering private student loans if there is a gap after you’ve exhausted your federal and institutional aid.


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