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The FAFSA and data processing delays: What to know now

Written by
VSAC Staff

February 8, 2024


FAFSA paper on clipboard.

This past fall the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced plans to release an updated Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2024-2025 school year. The FAFSA is the first step in getting financial aid for college and many career training programs.

The form, which had not been updated since the 1980s, requires fewer questions for most, is available in more languages, and aligns the new Student Aid Index (SAI) with Pell Grant Eligibility, among other changes. The new form was released in the final days of December 2023; in the month of January, FSA received 3.1 million applications.

The rollout by FSA has not gone well, creating stress for many students and their families. VSAC is working with FSA and with the Congressional Delegation to help students navigate this process.

FSA uses the FAFSA to collect financial data, and then that data is transferred in batches to schools and state agencies, like VSAC. At the end of January, FSA announced they would need to further update tables used in the processing of FAFSAs to account for inflation, and would start transferring data back to schools and state agencies in March. This transfer comes about 4-6 weeks later than anticipated, creating challenges for students and families who are planning for the 2024-2025 school year.

What is FSA’s new process to transfer data and how does it impact me?

FSA released a memo on January 30 detailing their new data processing rollout in the context of applicants’ experience.

  • Students who filled out their FAFSA online will receive an email in March informing them that their FAFSA form has been fully processed, their Submission Summary with the data they provided on the FAFSA form is available, their SAI has been calculated, and their FAFSA information has been sent to the schools they listed on their form.
    • Tip: It’s a good idea to review the information detailed in your Submission Summary by logging in to using your account username and password (formerly known as your FSA ID).
    • Tip: You may make edits, corrections, and add schools to your FAFSA after you receive this email.
  • FSA will send an email reminder to previous FAFSA applicants who have not yet submitted a 2024-25 FAFSA form.
  • FSA will fully process paper applications after they process online applications.

What does FSA’s data processing delay mean for my financial aid applications?

If you are a student or family who has been immersed in the FAFSA over the past month, it’s understandable that this latest challenge may cause some anxiety. You’re not alone—and we mean that in a couple of different ways. First, VSAC is here to support you!

It may also help to remember that every other student who is preparing for the 2024-2025 school year is in the same situation. Students, families, schools, and agencies across the United States—including any U.S. school to which you may be applying—are all working within FSA’s new parameters. If you have questions about how your college, university or training program is addressing the issues, we recommend that you contact the financial aid offices at your schools or programs to verify their deadlines and award process. This information is usually available on their website.

How does the delay impact my application for Vermont Grants and VSAC-Assisted scholarships?

VSAC administers more than 150 scholarships, and is extending the usual deadline to apply from  February 14 to March 1, in acknowledgement of the challenges many families are facing. VSAC also administers the Vermont Grant. For both the Vermont Grant and VSAC-assisted scholarships, you should complete your FAFSA if you have not already done so. We will continue to process scholarship and grant applications and be ready to incorporate your FAFSA information (and consider it on time) when we receive it from FSA in March.

If you’ve already filed your FAFSA and need to make changes, log in and make the correction as soon as you receive notification that your FAFSA has been processed. If you make corrections as soon as you can, and FSA can process the updates promptly, your Vermont Grant and/or VSAC scholarship application will have the updated information it needs.

Rest assured, VSAC will be monitoring the information FSA provides and we will adjust our grant and scholarship process accordingly. VSAC will not allow FSA’s data processing delays to jeopardize your scholarship or grant eligibility.

Watch: Why changes are coming to FAFSA and how it will affect financial aid for college

How can I best prepare myself to make informed decisions?

While this year’s FSA data processing delay has created an additional obstacle, you can plan to work within the situation. Here are just a few implications that you may want to be aware of:

  • You will have a smaller window to decide about the financial implications of your education choices. And if you were accepted early decision, say in December, you might not find out about your aid package until April or later. Although that presents a big question mark, you can assess your resources and determine what you could pay or borrow as you wait to hear if your aid will make up the difference.
    • Tip: This is a great time for you and your family to have meaningful discussions about how much money the family will need, and how much money you and parents together will have toward college costs.
  • Download VSAC’s Financial Aid Offer Comparison Tool to get ready to start comparing offers from schools, and organize your own financial resources as detailed above. To help you interpret those financial aid offers (and take some of the stress out of the process), we’ve broken it down for you so you can better compare all your options and make informed choices.
    • Tip: You can start filling in the Cost of Attendance at each school, including tuition, fees, meals, books, supplies, transportation, and more. That way, when your award package comes in, you’ll be halfway toward completing the form and doing your own analysis. 
  • If you know you are going to update your FAFSA that you already filed for this 2024-2025 school year, you may want to communicate your possible FAFSA changes with their institution’s financial aid office now.
  • If you anticipate that you may want to appeal FSA’s award, visit VSAC’s Appealing Your Financial Aid FAQ’s, a link to a webinar on appeals, a link to appeal letter templates, and more. You can start to draft a letter and fill in what is left after you hear back from FSA. 
  • May 1st is the typical deadline to commit to an institution on a traditional admissions cycle. Some schools have said they can be flexible, and a handful of colleges have announced extensions so far, but expect that list to grow.  Your best bet is to check the website of each institution you’ve applied to and see if May 1 is still “Decision Day.”  
  • Stay-up-to-date. This article was published on February 8, 2024. You may find more recent, day-to-day updates on FSA’s issue alert page for status updates and open issues on the FAFSA. You can monitor FSA on social media and see their site for updates.
    • Tip: See VSAC’s Facebook and Instagram pages for FAFSA Tips & Tricks, detailing workarounds and new information that we are discovering as we work with students and families in this unfolding process. 

Listen to Patrick Leduc, COO of VSAC, on VPR's Vermont Edition as he discusses the current state of the financial aid process.

Have more questions? VSAC is here to help!

If you are just getting started on your FAFSA, it’s important to file now. If you have already submitted your FAFSA and it is complete, or you are waiting to make changes, you have done everything you need to do until March. Look for an email from FSA in March saying your information has been processed; that will confirm that your information has been received by your schools and the process will unfold from there.

Our financial aid counselors are also available for one-on-one filing help—either in-person at our resource center in Winooski, or virtually from the comfort of your computer—from now through March 28. These sessions are offered free of charge, so don’t hesitate to make an appointment! Visit the VSAC calendar to sign up.

Our team members also offer Forms Nights at select schools.  Check with your high school counseling office to see if or when a forms night is scheduled locally, or visit the VSAC calendar.