FAFSA Launch Date Announced; Financial Aid Offers Likely Delayed

Rollout of a new FAFSA form has caused delays, worrying many financial aid administrators.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on November 15, 2023
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  • The Simplified FAFSA will likely lead to more students receiving Pell Grants.
  • The process of developing the new FAFSA, however, has been fraught with delays.
  • Some worry that continued delays will negatively harm current and incoming college students.

College students will be able to celebrate New Year's Eve this year by filling out their FAFSA form.

The Department of Education (ED) announced today that its new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available Dec. 31, nearly three months later than the typical year. The so-called Simplified FAFSA has been many years in the making, and financial aid administrators have voiced concerns that delays could negatively impact student aid offers for the 2024-25 academic year.

ED's latest announcement also shared that while the FAFSA will launch Dec. 31, colleges and universities may be unable to view financial aid eligibility data until late January.

Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said this could be a significant issue for financial aid administrators.

"While it's true that ED may have met the letter of the law by opening the FAFSA by Dec. 31, any significant delays in delivering applicant data to schools would fall short of the spirit of the law, leaving the most vulnerable student populations in limbo as they wait for the financial aid information they need to make vital college-going decisions," he said in a statement.

The FAFSA typically launches Oct. 1, and applicant data is usually shared with colleges and universities within five days of a student submitting the form. This allows financial aid administrators to collect applicant data, determine aid eligibility, and send out aid packages well before the academic year.

If institutions can’t access applicant information until late January, that process becomes muddled.

"Every day matters, and financial aid offices cannot begin reviewing financial aid applications, modeling student eligibility, and ultimately packaging and communicating financial aid offers until applicant data is provided to them by [ED]," Draeger said. "Once financial aid offices receive that information, distributing financial aid offers will likely take at least several more weeks."

ED's announcement said it aims to send applicant data "by the end of January." So, if that means schools receive data in the first or second week of January, students aren't likely to be impacted heavily. If that means student aid offices don't get data until the last week of January, students are more likely to feel negative impacts.

Congress directed ED to create a new FAFSA in 2020. That new form was originally supposed to launch in time for the 2023-24 academic year. ED later asked for, and was granted, an extension to instead launch the Simplified FAFSA for the 2024-25 school year.

The Simplified FAFSA promises to benefit low- and middle-income students more than the previous version.

A report found that more students will qualify for Pell Grants through the Simplified FAFSA. An analysis from State Higher Education Executive Officers projects that 2.1 million students previously ineligible for a Pell Grant may become eligible.

ED estimates the Simplified FAFSA will help approximately 1.5 million additional students access the maximum Pell Grant award.