All articles

The FAFSA Delay in 2024: How to Navigate the Wait & Get Money for College

a young woman looks at her laptop to read about the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the access point for students seeking financial aid for college. However, the unexpected delays in rolling out the FAFSA have left many students and their families uncertain and questioning how to secure the necessary funds to continue their education.

Amidst this confusion, it's crucial to understand the implications of this delay and take proactive steps to mitigate its impact on your financial planning for college.

In this article, we'll explore practical strategies and essential actions you should consider to manage this unprecedented situation effectively. From befriending your college admissions counselor to seeking outside scholarships and merit aid, we'll guide you through the essential things to do now to ensure that your educational journey remains on track despite the FAFSA delay.

Why is the FAFSA delayed?

After a delayed initial rollout in the fall of 2023, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced a new setback. They will not send students' FAFSA data to schools and scholarship organizations until the first half of March, instead off late January as previously planned.

This delay, expected to be about four to six weeks, creates a challenge for schools and students like you. Colleges cannot determine how much financial aid a student qualifies for without the necessary information. And you and your family can’t be sure you’ll be able to afford and attend the colleges on your list. 

But if you’re facing this situation and it’s causing you stress, take a deep breath. You are not alone. Over 17 million students complete the FAFSA each year, and colleges and universities rely on the data to help disburse financial aid and ensure adequate enrollment. So, some influential people and organizations are working behind the scenes to resolve the situation. 

In fact, on February 5th, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, stepped in to ensure better student experiences going forward, with initiatives including funding and federal personnel to help colleges prepare and process financial aid forms. So it’s going to get better. 

Now, let’s discuss the things you can do to make this wait less stressful.

Haven’t completed the FAFSA? Do it now

According to financial aid expert Kathy Ruby, you should complete your FAFSA now if you haven’t already. There’s been a lot of negative press about the glitches that students and parents are experiencing. But Kathy told us that once you and your parents get through the FSA ID and log-in process, the form is much shorter and easier to complete. 

Plus, Pell Grant eligibility has been expanded with the new FAFSA, meaning students will now get more Pell Grant money than in previous years. So complete the FAFSA now if you haven’t already. The FAFSA being delayed could turn out to be a good thing for you.

How to get help completing the FAFSA

Kathy said there are ways to get support with filling it out, and you should:

  1. Reach out to your high school or CBO counselor to ask about resources and community FAFSA completion events that provide students assistance.
  2. Check in with the financial aid office at one of the colleges you’re considering because they are also willing to help.
  3. Use the updated FAFSA resources supplied by the Department of Education to see if you can find answers to specific questions. 

Those support options can unlock money for your college education, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help. 

Completed the FAFSA & waiting for your data?

If you filled out your FAFSA and anxiously await the results and financial aid offers from colleges, here are five things you can do now.

1. Check to see if the colleges you applied to extended their deadlines

Colleges want to enroll students, and these delays are backing everyone up. This is causing many schools to extend their admission and acceptance deadlines.

If a school you applied to is extending its deadlines, this will give you and your family more time to receive financial aid offers and thoughtfully evaluate them before making a decision. So, check out the college websites to see if they’re offering extra time. 

However, Kathy Ruby warns that although many schools and states have been shifting those deadlines, you’ll still want to ensure you meet them. Make sure you’re meeting deadlines for both school-specific aid and state aid.

2. Use each college’s net price calculator

While you’re on the college’s website to check for deadline extensions, search for their net price calculator and complete it. Every college must have one, which can give you an idea of what it might cost to enroll at that school. It’s just an estimate, but it’s still information.

3. Look for scholarships to offset the cost of your education

As you wait for your FAFSA data to be released, it’s a good time to look around for scholarships to make college more affordable in general. You can also do that on each school’s website, and we have a robust scholarship database here on Appily. 

It’s important to know that colleges can still offer merit aid without your FAFSA data. They just can’t offer need-based aid. So, reach out and ask your admissions counselor(s) if you qualify for merit aid.

Merit aid distribution generally varies greatly by college type and student profile. Private colleges often offer more merit aid than public universities. 

Another strategy is to check with the department you’ll be studying under. If you’re going to be a business major, check with the business school. English major? Check with the English department. Each department will usually have some money they can give out to their students.

Above all else, our expert and prior Associate Director of College Counseling, Yolanda Coleman, said that you should always ask. Because “no” is the worst a school can say, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

And if you don’t know your admissions counselors, you should find out who they are and reach out. Yolanda told us they will be your best friend during this process. 

4. Look out for emails from colleges

Another tip from Kathy Ruby is that you’ll want to pay close attention to the emails you’re receiving from colleges and universities. They’ll want to help you through the process and get you the information you need to decide where to attend college. 

But if you miss their communication, you could be missing out on support, insight, and even money for college. 

5. Take time to review your offer letters when you get them

Once you start receiving your financial aid award letters, you might feel like you must rush to decide. Don’t do that. You’re one of millions of students impacted by this situation, so you don’t need to rush. Take your time to make the best decision for your needs. 

Started the FAFSA but running into trouble?

You may have already completed the FAFSA, but it’s still “in process.” Or you could have run into an issue that can’t be resolved. An example of an issue like this is if your parent does not have a social security number, which means they couldn’t get their FSA ID.

If you’re stuck here, Kathy Ruby said that you should:

Document your attempts

It’s helpful to track when you attempted to complete the FAFSA. You might not need the information later, but you very well could. 

Contact the financial aid offices

Email the financial aid offices at the colleges where you are admitted or have applied to and let them know about the issue you’re experiencing. 

While they may not have enough information to resolve things for you, they’ll appreciate knowing that you’ve made an attempt and will hopefully reach out later as they learn more about how to help you.

Already have your SAI?

With the new FAFSA, you’ll see that the Student Aid Index (SAI) is the new eligibility index for aid, helping colleges and scholarship providers assess your financial need. 

If you’ve completed the FAFSA and have your SAI, you can ask your admission counselor if they can do early estimates for students with their SAI. Or, if you’re going to visit a college, bring your SAI with you. They might be willing to give you an estimated award package while you’re on campus.

Once again, the point is to ask. They might say no, but they might say yes!

Colleges with rolling admissions and the FAFSA Delay

If you need a little more peace of mind, you can consider checking out colleges with rolling admission deadlines here on Appily. Just click the button below to get started. You’ll be able to see admission deadlines, average cost of attendance, average financial aid awards, and much more. 

This year’s FAFSA delays have pushed back the release of financial aid information and potentially impacted decision timelines. But with the tips we shared here, you should be able to navigate the uncertainty better. Be patient, and know you’re not the only student experiencing this.

Create a free Appily account to find, finance, and attend the college that's right for you Get Started Now