How are high schools supporting students through FAFSA delays?


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As the stress of this year’s college application process seems never-ending, high schools have ramped up communications to high school seniors and their parents, offered extra supports to navigate the college admission process, and tried to defuse the anxiety through fun activities.

Adding to the normal stress of college application season, processing delays this year for transmitting Free Application for Federal Student Aid data to colleges has frustrated many who are navigating an already nerve-racking and complex college application process. 

Those processing delays are narrowing the window between when colleges give students notice of financial aid packages and the deadline for when students need to tell colleges they want to enroll. 

In other words, this year’s seniors have potentially less time to weigh financial aid offerings at different colleges, which is making college decisions much more difficult.

In a typical year, many college decision deadlines are May 1. However, several schools have announced extended deadlines this year, according to a tracker from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“The timing and the new form and all of that has really shifted in terms of how we’re able to help them [students],” said Meg Huggins, academic dean for innovation at River Bluff High School in South Carolina. “It’s also impacted whether or not they’re able to make decisions on where they’re going, based on how and when they can get information around qualifying for any FAFSA funds.”

The U.S. Department of Education, which leads the FAFSA process, said it began transmitting student data to colleges the weekend of March 9, and that it has plans to ramp up information sharing over the next few weeks. 

Typically, the FAFSA form is available for students in October, and colleges receive the student information shortly after so they can notify applicants of aid amounts. But this year’s process was delayed several months as the Education Department developed a new, shorter and easier-to-use version and prepped it for public use. But the rollout hit snags.

Consequently, fewer students have completed the FAFSA. As of March 8, 31% of high school seniors submitted a FAFSA form. That’s down 33% from the same time last year, according to the National College Attainment Network’s FAFSA Tracker. 

The tracker also shows that submissions from the Class of 2024 who attend low-income high schools are down 41% compared to last year. Nationally, there had been a total of 1.3 million FAFSA submissions.

As the class of 2024 and their families wait in financial aid limbo, school administrators and other experts share advice on proactive steps to take.

Keep communicating

Even if students have all their applications in and their FAFSA forms completed, it’s vital that school college counseling offices, students and families remain open to communication. Schools should make it known they are a resource that families can turn to regarding strategies for weighing college acceptances and financial aid offerings, said several college admissions and education experts. 

This can be especially helpful for students who are neurodivergent and their families, said Andrew Kahn, associate director of behavior change and expertise at Understood, a nonprofit that provides resources for people with learning differences.

For example, school staff may be able to help students and their families create timelines for decision deadlines. Education leaders can also help students and families understand what information should be factored into making a college decision, including financial and academic elements and any accommodations a student may need.

“Having the ability to really gather enough information is key,” Kahn said.

Huggins said a school’s outreach to students and families of first generation college-goers is a specific area of focus for her school. “That group is the group that is in most need of FAFSA as far as even being able to consider going to college, and so that has been a piece that we’ve tried to navigate just in helping them complete that.”

This year, there have been “tons of phone calls” coming into the counseling office, as well. She credits the counseling staff and social worker, in addition to others, who have been very attentive to student and family needs.

“I would just encourage parents, if there are concerns, to reach out” to their schools for support, Huggins said.


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