FAFSA form release delayed to December

USC will maintain a March 4 deadline despite the two-month delay.

Hubbard Hall
FAFSA is opening in December, leaving students with a shorter window to complete and submit the form before the March deadline. The number of questions has been reduced from 108 to 36. (Beth Mosch / Daily Trojan file photo)

Good news: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid was revamped to be shorter and easier to understand.

Bad news: The FAFSA will open in December, two months later than usual. 

“It’s kind of shocking because I feel like it wasn’t super publicized,” said Jordyn Roberson, a junior majoring in human development and aging. “A lot of people really rely on financial aid so [the news about the change is] something that needs to be spread.”

Congress first set the FAFSA overhaul in motion nearly three years ago when they passed the FAFSA Simplification Act. The act aims to shorten the FAFSA application from 108 questions to 36, according to the California Student Aid Commission. Where possible, the form will take information directly from the Internal Revenue Service to calculate Pell Grant and student aid eligibility. The changes will also expand access to federal Pell Grants by linking eligibility to family size and proximity to the federal poverty level. 

This year’s delay resulted from a longer-than-usual testing period for before the new form was rolled out. In the past, yearly testing to solve issues with the form would conclude before October to allow developers time to address any errors with the system before the form is released to the public. The FAFSA will return to an Oct. 1 opening date next year. 

Eligibility calculations will no longer consider the number of family members in college. Instead, calculations will primarily utilize family or student federal income tax returns in a new formula called the “student aid index” which will replace the current “expected family contribution.” Additionally, the minimum student aid estimate will be reduced to negative $1,500.

Lawmakers intended to smoothen and simplify the process, which can be confusing for families. Roberson said that the old FAFSA “takes a while to submit.” In past years, she had difficulty coordinating with her parents to collect tax information and complete the 108-question form while being away at school.

USC will maintain a March 4 financial aid deadline as with previous years despite the two-month delay of the FAFSA, though it will also maintain an early summer window for releasing financial aid statements to continuing students, USC Financial Aid wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan. 

Amanda Ojeda, a graduate student studying urban planning, said she disagreed with the unchanged deadline.

“If the [federal] deadline had been extended on a federal level, then [USC’s deadline] should reflect it,” she said.

In its statement, USC Financial Aid stated that students can find their FSA ID — the username and password needed to complete the form — and complete the CSS profile when it opens on Oct. 1. They can also review the financial aid office’s website for important dates and deadlines to prepare for the December opening. 

In March, a collection of higher education organizers including the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators issued a letter to the Federal Student Aid administration, urging it to commit to a specific opening date and communicate with students, parents, counselors and other stakeholders about how the delay affects their financial aid, as well as produce training materials to aid students in the transition. 

Since then, the FSA has released online resources to help stakeholders adjust to the new form, including an online training center. A preview version of the form released online indicates that it will begin with a brief onboarding segment that informs users of the changes. The FSA will also hold a virtual training conference for financial aid professionals in late November, presumably only a week before the form officially opens. As of this publication, the FSA has still not committed to a specific date in December. 

As the release date looms, students like Roberson will face a shorter window to learn and submit a new form to USC. Roberson said that because of the delay, she would start on the form immediately.

“I do have a tendency to do my financial aid late,” she said. “I really need to get on it.”

© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.