FAFSA application
FAFSA application

Demystifying FAFSA: Everything You Need to Know in 2024

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the primary form that students in the United States use to apply for college financial aid. It helps determine eligibility for grants, loans, and work-study programs offered by the federal government, state governments, and the colleges themselves. The FAFSA serves as a crucial gateway for students seeking financial assistance to alleviate the cost of college. However, recent delays in FAFSA processing and data transmission, as well as glitches in the system, have made completion of the form challenging for many, leaving families and colleges in limbo.

The Department of Education announced recently that they would not start sending student Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data to colleges until March, leaving a very short timeframe for institutions to send out financial aid offers, and for families to determine what they can afford by the typical May 1 enrollment deadline. 

For many colleges, the delays are making it hard to assess their yield. Colleges generally track the number of enrollment deposits throughout the spring to determine how many additional offers of admission to give during Regular Decision. Comparing deposits today to this time last year is apples to oranges since families don’t have their financial aid packages and thus cannot yet commit if finances are a determining factor. As a result, colleges are feeling in the dark about where they are with their enrollments. This can lead to colleges being more conservative with acceptances and the possibility of going deep into their waitlists.  Time will tell.

In response to the delays, some colleges have extended their deposit date. The University of California system just announced a new deadline of May 15. (You can access a publicly available spreadsheet with similar deadline extensions here.) A few colleges are taking matters into their own hands and creating their own methods for obtaining financial information. John Carroll University, for example, announced a plan to create financial aid packages using their own forms, which would then be matched with FAFSA data later this spring. 

However, these workarounds do nothing to address the fact that the FAFSA is rife with glitches. At Premium Prep, we’ve heard stories of families unable to submit due to mistyped Social Security numbers, forms needing corrections that cannot take place, and hours-long waits to speak to the help desk at the Department of Education. While we cannot control the delays or errors, we aim to relieve some of the anxiety surrounding the financial aid application process by helping families stay updated on news and insights from the Department of Education, colleges, and our fellow counseling colleagues. 

Feeling stressed about your own financial aid process? Here are a few tips and resources to help things run smoothly – and to help you keep your sanity: 

Start Now: Begin the FAFSA application process as soon as possible to allow ample time for any potential delays or complications. Both students and at least one parent must create FSA ID accounts in order to complete the FAFSA. This is the best place to start and should be done immediately. If you are able to complete the FAFSA and hit submit, it’s best to do so now so that your data will be sent to colleges as soon as possible. 

Additionally, this can be a good time to have meaningful conversations as a family about what you can realistically afford and how much money you will need to attend each college on your list. If you have not already, complete the Net Price Calculator for each college to get a general estimate of how much aid you can expect to eventually receive. By discussing and making financial decisions now, you can move quickly once the firm numbers from each college are in hand later this spring. 

Advocate for Assistance: Don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself or your child if encountering challenges with FAFSA processing. Reach out to the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) or seek assistance from organizations specializing in higher education and financial aid. The National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) has a list of resources on their website that you can access here. You can also view a list of known FAFSA challenges and workarounds on the NCAN (National College Attainment Network) website, as well as in this helpful article from USA Today: Got FAFSA errors? Here are some tips on how to avoid the most common ones. The Department of Education also recently announced they plan to disburse $50 million to nonprofits for additional technical assistance and support, so there will hopefully be additional support for families in the coming months. 

Note: The FSAIC call center has been overwhelmed, leading to extraordinarily long wait times. Your best bet may be to utilize the Live Chat or email features if you are unable to reach the help line by phone.

Stay Informed: Stay up-to-date on known FAFSA errors, college deadline changes, and information from the Department of Education. If you run into an error while attempting to complete the form, check the list of known FAFSA Issues and Error Alerts, which is updated with resolutions as they are solved. Regularly check your college admissions portals to ensure that any additional financial aid forms colleges request (CSS Profile, tax documents, etc.) are complete. Additionally, if you have questions or concerns about the May 1 enrollment deadline, don’t hesitate to contact the college admissions office to inquire about receiving an extension. 

Reach Out for Extra Help: At Premium Prep, we remain committed to providing support and guidance to families navigating the complexities of financial aid. Don’t hesitate to contact us for additional help!