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USF students won’t see FAFSA awards until mid-April

Housing and Residential Education has seen students are slower to select their rooms for the upcoming school year. ORACLE GRAPHIC/JEISLIAN QUILES SIERRA

Changes to this year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have delayed financial aid awards being granted to students.

The delay compounded with errors in processing aid has left the six million applicants across the country waiting to hear how much money they will be granted to attend college, according to Damieon Lovett, Office of Financial Aid program director.

Typically, USF can begin awarding scholarships and financial aid in early spring to incoming students and in mid-spring to returning and transfer students. 

Students still have not received their complete aid packages and likely won’t begin receiving them until later this month. 

FAFSA is an application students fill out each year to determine if they are eligible to receive grants, scholarships, work study funds and loans for the upcoming school year, according to the Federal Student Aid website.

How does FAFSA work this year?

In a normal year, FAFSA would open Oct. 1.

After students and their families provide their financial information and the Department of Education determines how much aid a student is eligible for, the university receives the information. 

Lovett said USF typically receives this information by December and is able to pass out financial awards by spring.

That’s not what happened this year.

The Department of Education announced the form would not open until December because it is changing the application to create a more streamlined and accessible process. The change replaces the Expected Family Contribution calculation with the Student Aid Index (SAI), which is how the department determines how much aid a student can receive.

Related: Countdown to midnight: FAFSA to open applications on New Year’s Eve

“The Student Aid Index was established to give students and families a more realistic figure to associate with their ability to pay for college,” Lovett said.

While Lovett said he does not have an estimate of how much more aid USF students will receive, he did say it should give more students more aid paid for by the federal government.

What is happening now?

Right now, USF is receiving the processed applications from the Department of Education. While students normally would have already received their aid packages, USF is aiming to have their offers available to first-time-in-college students by mid to late April. 

Returning and transfer students can expect their aid packages by May or June, according to Lovett.

On March 22, the Department of Education announced a processing error for applications of dependent students with assets. These students will have to wait while the department reprocesses their applications before sending the updated SAI to schools.

While this error only affected a small number of students, it further adds to the complications that have delayed students’ reception of aid.

How is the delay affecting admissions?

Andy Johnson, housing director of operation and outreach, said he has seen incoming students are slower to select housing this year, which he suspects is because of the delay in aid awards.

“They really want to know what their financial impact is going to look like to help them make an informed decision, which I absolutely support them in,” he said in a March 21 Oracle article.

Related: A Bulls’ guide to applying for housing this year

While the incoming class may be slower to commit to living in an on-campus dorm, which can range from $6,416 to $12,812 per year, admission acceptances have not slowed, according to Martin Smith, assistant vice president of admissions.

USF is currently running ahead in students who have submitted a tuition deposit indicating they intend to enroll here in the summer or fall,” Smith said.

Smith said USF’s admissions office is monitoring the situation and working with future students who may need additional time to commit to the university due to delays in financial aid.

In order to help students, USF extended its decision deadline to May 15, two weeks later than the original May 1 deadline.

What can USF students do?

Since this is the first major “overhaul” of FAFSA in 40 years, Lovett said families and universities across the country are dealing with the changes and delays together. 

The Department of Education is communicating with universities to help them understand the new information. In turn, USF has worked to pass this information along to families and students to help them better understand the process, according to Lovett. 

Lovett and his team are also hosting sessions during Admitted Students Days to discuss the changes with prospective students and their families.

As long as students have submitted their FAFSA applications to the Department of Education, there is nothing they can do. However, Lovett urged families to be patient and understanding throughout the process.

“This is very new and we’re all kind of navigating this all together,” he said.

USF does not have a set date for when students can expect to receive their financial aid yet.