Daily Press (Sunday)

Applying to college early decision? 6 tips for the FAFSA delay

- By Eliza Haverstock NerdWallet BRANDON BELL/GETTY

The delayed release of the 2024-25 Free Applicatio­n for Federal Student Aid could make it more difficult for “early decision” applicants to accurately gauge the cost of their college education.

Early decision is a binding process, usually with a November applicatio­n deadline and a December admissions decision. Students may apply to only one college via early decision, and if accepted, they typically must attend or risk having to sit out of school for a year. An early decision applicatio­n can boost a student’s odds of getting into their dream school, but it also means they lose the chance to compare and negotiate financial aid offers from multiple schools.

Because the 2024-25 FAFSA will be simplified — and the release delayed from Oct. 1, 2023, until sometime in December — many colleges won’t be able to provide accurate financial aid estimates or final packages alongside early decision admissions, said Connie Livingston, head of college counselors with admissions counseling group Empowerly and a former admissions counselor at Brown University.

“In years prior, you knew what your package was when you knew your decision,” Livingston explained. “Now you’re getting an estimate, which is better than nothing, but it’s not a guarantee.”

If you’re thinking about applying early decision this fall, here are six tips to help you navigate the FAFSA overhaul and your college financial aid prospects.

1. Apply to CSS Profile schools

About 250 universiti­es use the more detailed CSS Profile alongside the FAFSA to calculate institutio­nal aid, such as scholarshi­ps and grants. The 2024-25 CSS Profile opened on Oct. 1. At CSS Profile schools, prospectiv­e early decision applicants may have better luck getting an accurate financial aid estimate before they decide to apply, said Shannon Vasconcelo­s, senior director of college finance for Bright Horizons College Coach, an admissions and financial aid counseling company.

However, students who apply early to FAFSA-only schools likely won’t have a reliable financial aid estimate before applying, Vasconcelo­s said.

The vast majority of institutio­ns that use the CSS Profile are private, although a handful of public schools like the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan also use it.

2. Estimate your financial aid

In past years, colleges’ online net price calculator­s have been the best way to estimate how much your education could cost at an institutio­n — but with a lack of clarity around the new FAFSA, many of these calculator­s have not yet been updated, Vasconcelo­s said. Early decision applicatio­ns should use other calculator­s.

The Education Department recently released a new Federal Student Aid Estimator to help students gauge their eligibilit­y for aid like federal student loans and the need-based Pell Grant for the 2024-25 school year. The College Board’s Expected Family Contributi­on calculator can estimate the aid you may get through the CSS Profile.

If your family has an income below a certain threshold — check the income cap with the early decision school to which you’re applying — it’s more likely that you’ll get enough aid to attend. Most early decision schools meet 100% of demonstrat­ed financial need, but they don’t offer merit aid, Livingston said.

3. Read the fine print

Students have the option to back out of early decision agreements if they can’t afford to attend. Carefully read the agreement at your school of choice before applying.

“I think that we’re going to see more families take advantage of that fine print this year and pull out of that early decision agreement, because they didn’t understand what they were getting into

financiall­y, or they did not have an accurate estimate of financial aid eligibilit­y upfront,” Vasconcelo­s said.

Backing out from an early decision acceptance is a process. For example, at Columbia University in New York, families must consult with a financial aid officer and explain their circumstan­ces before a student can be released from an early decision agreement. The timing can also be risky: When students finally get their delayed financial aid packages for the 2024-25 school year, applicatio­n deadlines at other schools may have passed.

Make sure to print out and save any financial aid estimates you’ve received from schools, Vasconcelo­s advises. These records can come in handy if you need to request more aid or get out of your binding admissions agreement.

4. Request your FSA ID now

Each person — including the student and parents — who fills out the 2024-25 FAFSA will need a unique FSA ID. It can take up to three days to receive an FSA ID after you request it.

Request your FSA ID ahead of time so you’ll be ready to fill out the FAFSA right away upon its December release and get your financial aid package as fast as possible.

Everyone should fill out the FAFSA, regardless of whether or not they think they’ll qualify for aid, says Livingston. Many colleges use the applicatio­n to help determine eligibilit­y for scholarshi­ps and merit aid in addition to need-based aid.

5. Consider early action or regular decision

Roughly 87% of U.S. undergradu­ates received financial aid in 2020-21, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For these students, applying early action (which is nonbinding) or regular decision may be a safer bet than early decision.

If you get multiple admissions offers, you can compare financial packages and costs of each school, and even try to negotiate your aid offers.

“When you apply early action or regular decision, then you’re not making a commitment,” Vasconcelo­s said. “You can go back to schools and say, ‘Thanks for this nice $5,000 scholarshi­p but this other school gave me $10,000; is there anything else you can do?’ and some schools are amenable to that.”

That type of negotiatio­n is off the table if you apply early decision, Vasconcelo­s said, but you might still be able to appeal for more aid after an early decision acceptance if your financial situation changes.

6. Reach out to financial aid offices

If you need more help understand­ing how the FAFSA simplifica­tion and delay could affect your plans to apply early decision, reach out to the financial aid offices at your target schools.

“They are expecting a lot of questions, and maybe some confusion,” Livingston said. “So they’re ready to help students and families through this process.”

 ?? ?? A person studies in the Rice University Library on Aug. 29, 2022, in Houston, Texas. With the timing and size of financial aid packages in question for the 2024-25 academic year, consider early action or regular decision instead.
A person studies in the Rice University Library on Aug. 29, 2022, in Houston, Texas. With the timing and size of financial aid packages in question for the 2024-25 academic year, consider early action or regular decision instead.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States