In a normal year, the government rolls out its new FAFSA application in October. We prepare and submit the requisite financial aid document(s) on behalf of many of our students, much like an accountant prepares a tax return; and then, that information is forwarded by the DOE (within 2-3 days) to the colleges we’ve indicated. Our applicants then receive their financial aid ‘offers’ around the time they receive acceptance notifications, which in turn, gives us sufficient time to evaluate those offers, and should we deem appropriate, ‘negotiate’ them. Not this year.
Here’s what’s happened.
First, the government made fairly significant changes to the Title IV regulations governing financial aid calculations (you can click here to read about the implications of those to your family). Then, in an effort to ‘streamline’ the financial application itself, the government overhauled the document(s) which delayed their launch of the new FAFSA by nearly three months. It finally went live on December 30 and it coincided with an announcement by the Department of Ed. that (likely due to ‘bugs’ in the new forms) they would be holding onto applicant data until the end of January. While this definitely impacted the typical timeline that colleges required in order to make offers, it likely would not have affected our students’ abilities to make decisions — and put down deposits — prior to the May 1 decision day deadline most universities adhere to.
This week, on January 30, the Department revealed the disappointing news that they would have to further delay forwarding student information until March.
The Department of Education announced this week that FAFSA applicant information would not be transmitted to colleges until the first half of March. The primary reason cited for the delay is an error in the formula related to income tables that were not adjusted for inflation. The new formula was created back in 2020-21 and did not account for the recent rise in inflation that far surpassed previous economic trends. Hence, a greater portion of a family’s income was left unprotected, an error that could cost some families thousands of dollars in potential federal grants.
Thus in some ways, I’m glad for the delay. The government’s failure to bake in the past two years’ rapid rise in inflation would likely have disproportionately impacted many of my clients, and many families throughout the country. That said, this week’s announcement came as a surprise and, in some cases, a shock both to the admissions and financial aid offices who are waiting for this data to make offers to recently admitted applicants, and to parents of high school seniors who will likely be pressed to make quick decisions on where to enroll their children by the May 1 deadline.
If you’re the parent of a 12th grader you should know and do the following:
1. When you (or your aspiring college student) log into the various applicant portals, you will likely see that your FAFSA remains missing, even if you have already completed the form(s) days or weeks ago. Do not worry – given the above, this is expected. And while it may create some current consternation, the bigger challenge is coming later this spring when colleges will be scrambling to assemble appropriate awards. On that point…
2. Families typically have at least a month, often more time, to evaluate awards, ‘appeal them’ (read here what that means), and decide on a school by May 1. But this year, some schools will not be able to distribute award notifications until much later than April 1, perhaps just prior to May 1 or even afterwards. As a result, there is A LOT of pressure on universities to extend the May 1 deadline. On Wednesday, nine higher ed organizations (including the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, of which I’m a member) called on colleges to officially extend their May 1 for students to make decisions. I expect most will offer some flexibility, if not outright extensions. And for the prepared students (see below), I think there will be significant opportunities. So,
3. Make sure that you control what you can control. What I mean is that regardless of the government’s delays, be sure that you have done everything required on your end (with no errors). Make sure your FAFSA, and if required the CSS Profile, as well all supporting documentation, have been submitted properly.
4. When required (and only when required), send your tax return info to the colleges who are asking for it. If they don’t ask, you should not send.
5. It helps to know your estimated Student Aid Index, as well as the historical generosity levels of the schools on your list, so that you can at least ballpark what you can expect from specific schools. We have software that we use to project very accurately what each family should expect to receive from every school on their list. This pre-planning will help tremendously when dealing with a condensed window for evaluating and requesting ‘more’ from the schools you’re considering.
Which brings me to my last point, which I’ll direct to parents of teens in 10th and 11th grade. The government utilizes the income and financial data from the calendar year of 10th to 11th grade. In other words, any adjustments you make to benefit (or hurt) your chances for institutional grants should be made before January of 10th grade. That’s why we like to begin working with our families in 10th grade at the latest. When we do so, not only can we accurately estimate your student aid index (what they’ll say you can afford to pay for college), we’ll also be able to recommend meaningful adjustments in time, and if applicable, to reduce what they say you can pay (thereby increasing what the colleges on your list will ‘give you’ to bridge the gap).
So, moral of the story: we/you cannot control the government’s schedule, or rollout, or delay, or legislative whims or inflation, for that matter. You can, however, exercise some control over your ability to plan ahead and take full advantage of any and all of the above. As always, if you have any questions about your family’s opportunities to pay less for colleges you’re considering — or which colleges you should be considering so that you can pay less, please feel free to reply to this email me at email@example.com, or give me a call, 954-659-1234.