FAFSA delays create headaches for parents, students

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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As if being a high school senior who is preparing to graduate and head to college this fall isn’t already stressful enough, problems with this year’s new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website have created delays and headaches for students, along with their parents and colleges.

Incoming college freshmen usually receive their financial aid packages by late April or early May to select the institution they will attend. But with the delays, that’s slowed down to a crawl. In fact, most institutions didn’t get the necessary information from the U.S. Department of Education until March. 

At both Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College, officials said they have seen improvement in recent weeks with more students receiving their financial aid packages. 

Longwood Dean of Admissions Jason Ferguson said they are working to get their financial aid offers out to students. 

Ferguson said they were able to release their first and largest batch of offers at the end of April. 

“With updated information that the federal government has given us, we sent another couple 100 out yesterday,” he said, referring to Tuesday, May 7. “So we’ve gotten to the point where we’re getting the data from the government being able to process that and able to get folks their financial offers.” 

Hampden-Sydney Vice-President for Enrollment Jeff Norris said while the situation has drastically improved in recent weeks, many students and families continue to face delays and uncertainties depending on their specific circumstances. 

“Throughout this fall and spring, Hampden-Sydney’s admission and financial aid team has been working tirelessly to support our prospective students and their families as they’ve navigated the major challenges the FAFSA debacle has created,” Norris said. 

He added that they are also seeing fewer families file the FAFSA than in recent years, which seems to be a national trend. 


With the FAFSA problems, Longwood extended its deadline for students to May 15, while Hampden-Sydney has individually extended its deadlines for students and families who are still being affected by the FAFSA delays. 

Ferguson estimates the problems with the financial aid application system have them 11- to 12-weeks behind where they would have been in the past. 

“Typically we start putting packages out in February,” he said. “So it’s definitely made the cycle difficult.” 

While some Virginia colleges have extended their deadlines to June 1, Ferguson said Longwood is sticking with the May 15 date for prospective students. 

“We feel like that’s going to be ample time,” he said. “Now if families do come back to us and they’re still having issues or still not quite ready, we’re going to work with them. I think that’s the underlying theme to this whole cycle is that we’re trying to make sure that students and parents understand that we want them to make the best decision for themselves.” 

Ferguson said they don’t want to pressure them into doing anything they’re not ready to do. 

“We’ll always work with families on a case by case basis,” he said. 

Ferguson noted that the process is daunting and can be stressful for families who have experience with applying to colleges and those who are first generation families. 

“The process is overwhelming already,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is add additional stress to that.” 

Norris said throughout this admission cycle, Hampden-Sydney has communicated frequently with prospective students and their families, both on an individual and broad basis. 

“Our team has answered questions and provided guidance at every step of the way to the best of our ability,” Norris explained, adding “we have encouraged students and families to not let the frustrations and delays caused by the FAFSA situation get in the way of their opportunity to pursue the transformative experience Hampden-Sydney offers young men.” 

For Longwood, Ferguson said they appear on track to welcome a freshmen class of about 850 students this fall, which is in line with years past. 

Norris said Hampden-Sydney has seen an 18% increase in this freshman class deposits relative to last year’s admission cycle. 

“This is certainly a testament to our applicants’ enthusiasm for Hampden-Sydney as well as the personal attention and dedication of our admission and financial aid staff and entire campus community,” he noted. 


The admissions officials at colleges are there to work with students and their families. 

“I know across the country, we’re understanding people and we’re going to do the best we can,” Ferguson said. “Obviously, there’s gonna come a time where we’ve got to make some decisions because this is the first step in a long line of summer process — course registration, housing, summer orientations. Those kind of things.” 

He noted that they will have to adhere to a deadline at some point. 

“We definitely want families to understand that we’re in the fight with them,” Ferguson said, adding they will do their best to help students make the best decision possible. 

The FAFSA issue isn’t just creating problems for a particular college here or there, everyone across the country is in the same boat. 

“The whole FAFSA issue is not something that the colleges invented,” Ferguson explains. “It is a deck of cards that we were handed and dealt, and we’re all trying to make the best play on that hand that we possibly can.” 

The simplified financial aid application that reduced the number of questions from more than a hundred to 30 or 40 is a good idea, but it was delayed at the outset, he explained. Then even when it was released at the first of the year, it “was still fraught with issues.” 

“I think that going forward, if the bugs can be worked out, it’s gonna be easier for families,” Ferguson said. “It’s just that delay and timing is what’s really hurt everybody.” 

At Longwood, he said they have extended the hours that parents can connect with them. Their financial aid folks have been holding meetings through Zoom and in the evenings to assist. 

“My office opened up more windows for people to come to campus and visit, Ferguson said. “So we’re trying to do our best to make sure that families understand we’re here for them and, and we’re going to do the best we can to walk them through the process or walk them through the decision making.” 

Ferguson welcomes those still facing problems to call him on his cell phone at 804-334-4373.