November 15, 2023
The U.S. Department of Education announced on Wednesday that the revamped Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, would be available to students “by December 31,” three months later than usual.
Most everyone in the college-access trenches has long suspected that the form wouldn’t be online until the very end of the year (there’s a federal statutory requirement that it be there by January 1, 2024). But the real news on Wednesday was an unpleasant surprise: Colleges won’t receive applicants’ FAFSA data right away — possibly not until the end of January, according to the department’s updated timeline. And that will surely push back the delivery of aid offers to many students.
Those delays will pose challenges to applicants, college counselors, and financial-aid officers during an enrollment cycle that’s already shaping up to be a bear. Although the streamlined FAFSA has been widely praised, its delayed debut represents a Maalox moment.
In a written statement on Wednesday, Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, expressed optimism that the simplified FAFSA would benefit millions of students and families. But, he said, “while it’s true that ED [the Education Department] may have met the letter of the law by opening the FAFSA by December 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. We urge our federal partners to do all they can to provide applicant data to institutions as quickly as possible, and to clearly communicate with schools as soon as updates are available.”