Latest FAFSA Error Affects Aid for 200K, Offers for Everyone Else

Education Department miscalculations could reduce expected financial aid for roughly 200,000 students, and others might face further delays.
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Written by Eliza Haverstock
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Students and families may have to wait even longer for college financial aid offers this spring. The U.S. Education Department miscalculated financial need in almost 15% of the 1.5 million Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms it processed before March 21.

The issue directly affects roughly 200,000 dependent students with assets such as savings accounts, investments, businesses and farms, the Education Department announced on Friday. These students and their prospective schools received a Student Aid Index (SAI) number — a measure of student financial need — that was artificially low. Because a lower SAI number generally results in higher aid awards, affected students may get smaller financial aid packages than expected.

Even if you’re not directly impacted, your financial aid offer could be delayed.

“It certainly is going to impact schools' ability to get out aid packages, both for this student population and probably for others as well,” says Jill Desjean, senior policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “It puts schools in a position where now they've got hundreds or hopefully thousands of [processed FAFSAs] on their campus, but now they're going to need to go into their systems and differentiate between those that are accurate and ones that aren't.”

The Education Department said a vendor issue was responsible for the incorrect SAI calculations. The department will reprocess the affected FAFSAs and send them back to schools but did not say exactly when it will do so. Desjean expects reprocessing will take a few weeks, at least. As an “interim fix,” the department said schools can manually recalculate SAIs to develop a “tentative aid package” for affected students.

“It would be quite tedious and is a lot to ask of schools at this late date,” Desjean says. “But if [schools] have to do it, and they're ready to get aid offers out now and that's what's holding them up, I'm sure they will go out and do that.”

Many schools are trying to accommodate FAFSA filers

If you’re an independent student, or if you’re a dependent student who was not asked on the FAFSA to report any assets, then the size of your financial aid package likely won’t be affected by this miscalculation. But it could still be delayed as financial aid offices navigate the issue.

If you’re a dependent student who did report assets, you can check the date your FAFSA was processed by logging into your account. The issue affects FAFSAs processed before March 21. Just because you submitted the form before March 21 doesn't mean the Education Department has processed it yet because there’s a backlog.

You can reach out to the financial aid office at your prospective colleges with questions, but keep in mind that this is uncharted territory for them, too.

“Trust that your financial aid officers are doing everything that they can in light of the challenges they've been presented with,” Desjean says. “They're still working day and night to get these aid offers out.”

Some schools have moved the typical May 1 college decision deadline to June 1 to allow students and families time to review aid offers before committing.

If you haven’t submitted your FAFSA yet, do so as soon as possible. Though delays and errors can be frustrating, you must submit the form to unlock federal student loans, grants, work-study and even some private scholarships.

Miscalculation is latest error in a long list for FAFSA

This is the Education Department’s latest blunder in a FAFSA redesign and rollout marked by major delays, processing errors and technical glitches.

The 2024-25 form “soft-launched” in late December, nearly three months after its typical debut. After a series of processing delays and math fixes from the Education Department — like failing to account for inflation — institutions finally began receiving small batches of processed FAFSAs in mid-March. Students with undocumented parents were unable to submit the FAFSA for months after it opened; the Education Department released a technical workaround for them in mid-March, too.

As of March 15, FAFSA submissions from high school seniors are down about 30% from this time last year, according to the National College Attainment Network’s FAFSA tracker.

A group of Republican lawmakers recently called for an investigation into the Education Department’s FAFSA rollout. Following this latest FAFSA misstep, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana called out the department in a video posted to X (formerly Twitter) on Friday afternoon.

“They’re saying hey, the universities can work around and do their own work. That’s not right. You’re supposed to get it done right the first time, and you’re supposed to get it done right three months ago,” Cassidy said in the video. “We need more accountability, more responsibility, more competence, from the Department of Education.”

Despite its issues, the redesigned FAFSA is intended to be quicker and simpler to complete. Some students need to answer 18 questions, down from 103 possible questions on previous years’ forms. Updated aid calculations could qualify 7.3 million students from low-income backgrounds for Pell Grants, up from 6.4 million students in 2020-21. Pell Grants give students up to $7,395 per year that doesn't need to be repaid.

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