Families with kids heading off to college have enough challenges to face, but several delays from the U.S. Department of Education have made problems even worse this year.

New changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the upcoming academic year meant the form didn’t become available until December of 2023, even though it’s usually available in October. Then, the newly revamped FAFSA had technology problems after its launch that led to it being partially out-of-service well into January of this year.

Additional delays made it so colleges didn’t start receiving the first FAFSA data until the last week. This is a huge problem since, historically, students typically receive financial aid award letters from schools by now. Many schools also require students to make a final decision on their college of choice by May 1st, just a few months before each academic year begins.

These delays have made it so fewer students had submitted the FAFSA by the end of February 2024. A February 27th Department of Education press release noted that more than 4.7 million families had submitted the form as of that date, whereas approximately 7.6 million people who filled out the FAFSA for the 2023-24 academic year had done so by the end of February 2023.

New FAFSA Changes May Surprise Some Families

How can students make a college decision without knowing how much financial aid they might receive? That’s a big issue already, but this year’s decision could be even more problematic since the FAFSA dropped the formerly used Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in favor of a new calculation called the Student Aid Index (SAI).

The new SAI calculation doesn’t take into account having more than one dependent in college, whereas the previously used Expected Family Contribution (EFC) did. This brings an end to the “sibling discount” some families received for having multiple siblings in college at the same time.

The new FAFSA form also requires families to list assets like family-owned small businesses and family farms as part of their net worth when this wasn’t the case in the past. This means these assets will count against them for the purpose of determining financial aid even though they typically cannot be liquidated to pay for college.

Some Colleges Are Delaying Deadlines To Help Families

At the end of the day, most families can’t make an informed decision on college of choice until they know whether their child qualifies for certain scholarships, grants, and institutional aid. After all, without knowing the financial aid amounts, how can families reasonably know if they can afford a given college?

Some colleges and universities appear to be just as frazzled about the abbreviated timeline as students. In fact, USA Today reported that some schools have already launched their own financial aid forms to help students determine the amount of aid they may be eligible for at their institution specifically. There are also nearly 200 colleges and universities who have extended their enrollment deadlines to account for FAFSA delays this year so far.

The National Association for College Admission Planning created a helpful database of these schools that have extended their enrollment deadlines this year beyond May 1st, which you can find here. Where many U.S. colleges and universities pushed their enrollment deadlines for the 2024-25 academic year to June 1st, some schools like the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Northern Arizona University, and Radford University in Virginia have announced an enrollment deadline of July 1st, 2024.

There are also some U.S. schools accepting enrollment well into August of 2024 for the 2024-25 academic year, which is bound to be chaotic. The following schools will let students enroll for the upcoming academic year all summer long, then just work out the kinks and figure out scheduling and classes after the fact:

  • Black Hills State University in South Dakota: August 1, 2024
  • Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Louisiana: August 1, 2024
  • Richard Bland College of Virginia: August 16, 2024
  • Shepherd University of West Virginia: August 1, 2024
  • Western Illinois University: : August 1, 2024

While it’s hard to imagine making a college decision in June, July or August then beginning an academic year in a matter of weeks, that’s the situation students are finding themselves in whether they like it or not. The alternative is basing school choice on factors outside of cost and potential financial aid availability, which is not a great choice for families who have limited financial means.

The Bottom Line

This 2024-25 academic year could be off to a rough start due to FAFSA delays and the domino effect they have created. Pushing the FAFSA launch to December instead of October of 2023 put the current chain of events in motion from the start, and schools not receiving student’s FAFSA info until March of 2024 exacerbated the problem even more.

But, all families can do this year is roll with the punches and be ready to make important college decisions as quickly as possible. This means filling out the FAFSA form now if you haven’t already, having a general idea of your family’s financial situation and looking for alternative ways to pay for college.

Remember that it’s never too late to apply for scholarships to help pay for higher education, and that there are more last-minute financial aid opportunities than many people realize. If you work on lining up scholarships now, save as much as you can, and prepare yourself to decide on a college quickly once you start receiving financial aid award letters, you can get ahead of the pack.

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