Still Waiting On Financial Aid Offers? Here’s What You Can Do Now

Reach out to your prospective schools to ask for a decision deadline extension, consider your options and submit the FAFSA ASAP (if you haven’t already).
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Written by Eliza Haverstock
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Edited by Cecilia Clark
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May 1 was supposed to be “college decision day” for high school seniors across the country. But months of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) errors and financial aid offer delays have left scores of students unsure of their post-secondary plans, or whether they can afford college at all.

Nationwide, FAFSA completion is down about 17% from this time last year, according to the National College Attainment Network. Schools are now scrambling to get financial aid offers out. As of May 7, roughly 28% of institutions had yet to begin assembling financial aid packages for accepted applicants, according to a poll by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).

Most persistent FAFSA errors have largely been resolved, including an issue that prevented students in mixed-citizenship status families from submitting the form. However, some students may now face college decision deadlines without all of their financial aid offers on the table.

“These students have no idea of, ‘what is my bill gonna look like and how am I going to be able to pay for it?’,” says Kierstan Dufour, director of external training and partnerships at Get2College, a Mississippi college access organization of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation.

Submit the FAFSA if you haven’t already. And if you’re still navigating enrollment deadlines and waiting on financial aid packages from one or more prospective schools, here’s what you can do.

Be transparent with potential schools

To give students and families more time to receive and consider financial aid offers, 63% of public four-year colleges have extended their decision deadlines, according to NASFAA. Typical May 1 deadlines may now be as late as mid-June, July or even August. The National Association for College Admission Counseling has a comprehensive list of updated 2024-25 college deadlines.

But what if School A sent your financial aid package with a June 1 decision deadline, but School B has no financial aid offer in sight and a June 30 deadline?

Be transparent with potential schools and double-check decision deadlines, Dufour says. Some schools are offering extensions on a case-by-case basis. “Just say, ‘Hey, I'm waiting for an offer and understand that you have this deadline, but I haven't received it from another school. Is there any extension that can be made until I can get all of the pieces of the puzzle together?’”

After reaching out to schools on your own, ask your high school’s guidance counselor to contact them on your behalf, says Ellie Bruecker, interim director of research at The Institute for College Access and Success.

“An email may be more likely to be read if it's coming from a school account from a counselor, than [from] a student and their Gmail address,” Bruecker says. “I hope that most financial aid offices are replying to everybody that they can right now, but you might get a better foot in the door if you're going through your school counselor.”

Net price calculators, which are available on every college’s website, can also help you estimate how much you might pay for the school after financial aid, Bruecker says.

Don’t rule out community college

Financial aid delays can be frustrating, especially when they’re preventing you from making decisions about your future. But if you’re considering college next year, don’t shift direction yet, Bruecker says.

If you’ve submitted the FAFSA, pending financial aid offers should arrive in the coming weeks. The Education Department says it has processed more than 8.3 million FAFSA forms and “is encouraging schools to package aid offers as quickly as possible,” according to an April 30 announcement.

If the offer is insufficient, you can write a financial aid appeal letter to your potential school. As a plan B, you may also consider enrolling in community college in the fall.

Community colleges are much cheaper than four-year schools. Annual community college tuition and fees for in-state students are $3,501, compared with $9,375 for an in-state public four-year school and $32,825 for a private four-year school, per 2020-21 data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics.

You may also have the option to attend a community college for two years, then transfer to a four-year school. This can be a smart way to save money.

And if you’re eligible, Pell Grants can cover most of your community college bill, Dufour says. Community colleges often have rolling admissions, so you have plenty of time to apply for fall enrollment. If you still want to attend a four-year school, you can transfer in the future.

“Just because your route isn't directly to that dream school, doesn't mean that it’s never an option,” Dufour says. “A lot of times colleges will have transfer scholarships, because community colleges have such a large population of students across the country.”

Submit the FAFSA if you haven’t already

The Education Department is now processing FAFSAs within three days — instead of months — so submitting your form today can lead to a quick financial aid package, Dufour says.

If you’re thinking about going to college next year, don’t let financial aid delays dissuade you, Bruecker says. Filling out the form unlocks federal student aid, which can include Pell Grants of up to $7,395 per year. It also unlocks state and college aid, and it's necessary to apply for some scholarships.

If you need help completing the FAFSA or understanding your financial aid award letters, look to these resources:

  • Your high school's guidance or college counselor.

  • The financial aid office at your current or prospective college. 

  • College access organizations in your community or state. 

  • Online resources, like YouTube videos and the Education Department's FAFSA help page. 

  • The federal government's student aid helpline: 800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243).

You can complete the 2024-25 FAFSA after graduating from high school, but your guidance counselor may not be able to assist you at that point, Dufour says. Prioritize submitting the FAFSA before school is out — and if you need FAFSA help during the summer, reach out to other resources.

“Go do it, go do it, go do it today,” Dufour says. Filling out the FAFSA “is easier than you may think, and if you have glitches, there is a lot of support out there.”

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