Some colleges offer students their own aid forms after FAFSA delays frustrate families

Tired of struggling with the new federal financial aid form?

Colleges are too.

So a handful of them across the country have launched their own financial aid forms. While these forms don't replace the 2024-2025 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, schools can use them to estimate financial aid awards for students. Some schools guarantee their portion of the award up to a certain amount; others simply provide a breakdown of what students are eligible for.

Either way, they’re offering families and students some immediate clarity to help them make decisions on school. The Department of Education, which had a rocky rollout of its new simplified FAFSA, doesn’t even expect to start sending the data that schools need to determine awards until mid-March. That would push the first award letters out to late March or early April.


Choosing a school is “a monumental decision for an 18-year-old and for parents and their pocketbook, and the FAFSA delay only adds an extra layer of stress,” said Rob Reddy, vice president of enrollment management at Missouri’s St. Louis University. “We want to provide services and support. Students’ enrollments were in jeopardy.”

How is a school’s financial aid form different from FAFSA?

Schools say their financial aid form mirrors the FAFSA. Whatever information you need for FAFSA is pretty much the same for the school's version. That said, students who have parents without Social Security numbers should be able to complete school forms without any issues, unlike the current FAFSA.

Sometimes, the school form is even shorter than the new simplified FAFSA, which includes about 36 questions, down from the previous 108.

At Worcester, Massachusetts-based Assumption University, which launched its form last October, there are only 12 questions: eight for parents and four for students.

Are school estimates for financial aid accurate without FAFSA?

All the schools USA TODAY interviewed said yes, if the information provided by students and families is accurate.

To build their models, schools used the same tables as the government to estimate financial aid.

Since offering their own aid estimates can carry risks, especially if they’re guaranteeing some aid based on their in-house form, schools tested extensively to make sure they “were really close to the mark,” said Chip Timmons, dean of enrollment management and director of admissions at Wabash College in Indiana.

Do I still need to complete the FAFSA?

Yes, you should still complete the FAFSA.

Some schools are only providing students with estimates of how their financial aid and costs will break down based either on the information they enter on the school’s aid form or from a screenshot of their FAFSA confirmation. Awards will be official once their FAFSA is processed.

Others like Assumption and SLU guarantee their aid awards, provided the information you submit is accurate.  If the institutional aid in your award doesn’t cover your costs, you’ll need the FAFSA to receive your federal money, they said.

When do I receive my award from a school financial aid form?

The turnaround can be a week or two from when you submit your financial aid form, school administrators said.

As soon as the Department of Education said its FAFSA launch would be delayed to the end of 2023, schools like Assumption and Wabash jumped to offer their aid applications to help their "early decision" candidates.

However, once it became clear in January that the new FAFSA would pose technical challenges to families and students trying to access the form, some schools extended their aid applications to "regular decision" candidates.

Other institutions followed suit. Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, launched its form in late January; John Carroll University in Ohio and St. Louis University began theirs this month.

You have options: FAFSA freaking you out? It's usually the best choice, but other financial aid options exist

What else are schools doing to help?

Many schools are extending their commitment deadline, which is usually May 1. Schools that are giving families more time include Assumption, Columbia College in Chicago, and Emerson College in Boston. A running list is being compiled by college counselor Danny Tajeda.

Will schools offer their financial aid forms beyond this year?


When SLU decided to spend unbudgeted money to develop its own form, then test and market it, the school committed to considering a five-year plan to justify the expense, said Reddy, the vice president of enrollment management.

Future options include rolling out a 2025-2026 form earlier than the FAFSA’s October 1 date or using it as an educational tool for middle schoolers, ninth and 10th graders “to prepare them for what it means to complete the FAFSA,” he said. “We can use it with guidance in communities that are under-resourced.”

Anything to help students and families get through the delays this year and in the future is paramount, administrators said.

“The financial aid process can be overwhelming for anyone, and many of our students are first-generation college students who have no experience with these filings,” said John McLaughlin, vice president for enrollment at Anna Maria.

Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FAFSA delays spur colleges to offer their own form for student aid