How to Deal With College Financial Aid Delays

It has been a wild winter for anyone following this year’s FAFSA. The FAFSA launch has been riddled with technical problems. Making matters worse, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it needed to fix a mistake that could have cost families $1.8 billion in financial aid this coming year.

The upshot? Colleges won’t see FAFSA information until mid-March at the earliest. Then they will need to work with this information to produce financial aid offers. Students won’t likely see federal aid numbers until April at the earliest. And colleges are quietly admitting that aid letters may be coming in May, after the traditional May 1st Decision Day deadline.

Need to catch up? Read our Q&A to fully understand what is happening with the FAFSA.


FAFSA Crashing and Technical Issues

It has been a turbulent season for Federal Student Aid’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The Education Department was required by law to launch the new FAFSA by December 31st. The agency knew that the FAFSA was not ready for prime time and announced a “soft launch” for January, with the goal of fixing most problems by February 1st. But we hit that date and the list of technical issues – many of which prevent families from even starting the form – just continues to grow.

The crashing and technical issues have been particularly tough on certain groups, most notably families with parents who don’t have social security numbers. This large group has, thus far, been shut out of the FAFSA. The form also features inconsistent and inexplicable errors being documented on Facebook, Reddit, and by Federal Student Aid. When families try to call FSA’s contact center, the hours are short and waits are long.


FAFSA Delays: What You Need to Know Now


Try to get the FAFSA done. It is working for many families.

Students and parents shouldn’t let the reported glitches deter them from trying to get their FAFSA done now. More than 3 million students have successfully completed the FAFSA, so it is working for many.

The FAFSA can be easy to fill out, now that most of the financial questions have been removed. If a family sits down and works together, it is possible to get the form done in 30 minutes or less.

Another good reason to try now? Your completed FAFSA will be time-stamped. This date may be a factor if your college aid is first-come, first-served.


Watch for instructions from college financial aid offices.

Colleges were blindsided by this round of delays. They may try other ways to get financial information from you so that they can give you a financial aid package in a timely manner. While all colleges will have to wait for your FAFSA data to award federal grants and loans, they may be able to offer you a provisional aid package.


Let colleges know if you are having trouble with the FAFSA.

Colleges have priority deadlines and so many of them haven’t moved these dates even though they are well aware that the FAFSA is not working properly. If the FAFSA isn’t working for you or for your parents, it is crucial that you let your colleges know. Some colleges distribute aid that is first-come, first-served. Your colleges should not put you at the back of the line because of the FAFSA’s technical issues. If you have been admitted to a college, email its financial aid office and CC the college admissions office. The latter may be able to advocate for you with the financial aid office.


Wait to see your financial aid offers, even if they come very late.

As we noted, colleges won’t receive FAFSA information until mid-March, at the earliest. After that, the colleges will need to import thousands of FAFSA records into their financial aid systems and get things organized. Unfortunately, colleges and their technology teams haven’t had a chance to test this data and make it work in their systems yet. We are hearing that delays on the college side could push back financial aid letters until early or mid-May for some colleges, long after students need to be making a college decision.

You will want to see and compare your financial aid offers before you sign an enrollment contract. Again, communicate with your colleges and let them know that you need to see all of your letters before you can commit. We are hopeful that colleges will push back Decision Day this year, but it may be important this year to fight for extra time.