A Lehigh University student logs into her FAFSA account. In January, the Department of Education announced a delay in the rollout of this year’s FAFSA applications. (Maeve Kelly/ B&W Staff)

FAFSA delay complicates aid planning


The Department of Education announced a delay in this year’s rollout of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Jan. 30, indicating that colleges will not receive FAFSA applications until March at the earliest. 

In the past, the FAFSA was available Oct. 1, but this year it was delayed until Dec. 31. This delay will push back several deadlines and potentially discourage low-income students from enrolling. 

According to NPR, the delay was caused by correcting a $1.8 billion mistake in the FAFSA that could have hurt lower-income students.

This year, the FAFSA is undergoing a simplification process to streamline how families gather their financial information.

While the process will be simpler in the future, Jennifer Mertz, the assistant vice provost of financial services and director of financial aid at Lehigh, said the delay will cause problems this year for students who need aid.

“This process is supposed to make it simpler, but it’s delayed, which is unfortunately going to hurt that exact population they are trying to help this year because these are the students who are relying on aid,” Mertz said.

Along with the FAFSA, Lehigh requires students to submit their parents’ taxes and the College Board’s CSS Profile when applying for financial aid. 

“The push back is concerning, but we are not overly concerned because we still have the College Board CSS profile,” Mertz said. “So in that aspect, we can still determine aid eligibility for students.” 

She said Lehigh intends to frontload any government grants students receive, so if a student is eligible for $25,000 in Lehigh grants and a $5,000 Pell grant they will get a $30,000 grant from Lehigh. 

The Pell Grant is one way students may receive aid from the U.S. Department of Education to help finance tuition, fees, housing and other higher education costs.    

Mertz said she is currently notifying students of their grant package so they have enough information to know if Lehigh will be affordable. While these students’ Lehigh grants will be reduced when they receive federal funds, their total aid will remain the same.

Mertz said she spoke to peer institutions that require the profile to give out similar tentative awards. She found schools relying only on the FAFSA to make tentative packages are struggling with knowing how much students will need. 

Mary Fronheiser, senior associate director of financial aid at Lehigh, said other colleges not utilizing the CSS profile have to rely on gathering relevant information from families and using estimation tools to determine financial aid offers.

The delay has caused problems in financial aid offices and become an added stressor for some students, including Collette Kissell, ‘25. 

“I think that the delay is going to prove to be problematic for students who rely on the knowledge and certainty of their aid when pursuing higher education and how to decide between what school may be the best fit for them, economically and academically,” Kissell said.

Fronheiser shares Kissell’s frustration over the delay. 

“It’s frustrating for us as financial aid counselors because we can’t help students,” Fronhesier said. “Students are calling us and asking ‘What do we do?’ and we just tell them to just sit back and wait and that is hard for us to do.” 

The Department of Education has been talking about releasing the FAFSA simplification for the past few years, so Lehigh’s financial aid advisors have prepared for this delay, Fronhesier said. 

Despite preparations, the change has still caused frustration among financial aid counselors. 

“From a staffing perspective, it is frustrating,” Mertz said. “We’re going to have to go back in and look at all of these files a second time.”

She said the FAFSA should be available Oct. 1 again next year.

“Next year, once the application is up and running and all of the technology is in place, it should be seamless,” Mertz said.

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