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Seeking financial aid, you may not know if it's awarded until mid-April

FAFSA delays create anxiety within college financial aid departments
Posted at 7:49 PM, Feb 05, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS — College students across the country usually know by now what kind of financial aid they'll qualify for at their schools of choice, leaving them months to decide where they want to go. But now, that decision will come down to just two weeks. It's because of delays in the Federal Application For Student Aid, or FAFSA.

"I've been doing financial aid for 30 years. The fact that I cannot help one student right now with their upcoming school year is a horrible thing to me," said Assistant Vice Chancellor of Financial Aid at UCCS Jevita Rogers.

It's all because of delays within the Department of Education. This year, they worked to simplify the FAFSA form to make it easier for families. This would include fewer questions, short informational videos shown within the form, and the hope that more students would be able to qualify for a Federal Pell Grant.

"In the past, students were able to do that financial aid form on October 1st. Then we would receive their FAFSA information within a month or so," said Director of Financial Aid at Pikes Peak State College Ron Swartwood.

However, that's not the case this year. Delays have stopped students from applying to FAFSA on October 1st, and instead, the form was "soft launched" on December 31st. Then, schools were promised a mid-January date for when they could receive students' financial information.

"As of last week Wednesday, the US Department of Education sent out a notice to all of us that the earliest we're going to receive that information is the middle of March," said Rogers.

That means, at best, schools will be able to send out financial aid notices to students in mid-April, just two weeks before the standard May 1st decision date.

"Now's not the time to panic, but it is the time to be organized," said Vice President of Enrollment at Colorado College Mark Hatch. "It is time to fill out the form and to communicate with the colleges and universities that students are applying to".

Colorado College, as a private university, is in a better place to help students when compared with public schools. They have access to the College Scholarship Service profile, another form of financial information for students.

Still, Rogers says it breaks her heart to not be able to answer questions from parents and already-admitted students. Ultimately, she says, responsibility will fall to each financial aid department across the country.

"It really does come down to trust and belief that every financial aid office in this country is going to expedite getting those notifications to students," she said.

Financial aid counselors believe their best hope is that many universities will move the May 1st decision date to a later time, that way students would have more opportunities to make an informed decision about their higher education.

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