Personal finance

‘This is make or break’ — students are still waiting on financial aid days ahead of National College Decision Day

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Few college admission cycles have been as hard on students as this one.

National College Decision Day — the deadline most schools set to decide on a college — is just two weeks away. But many college hopefuls are still unsure of where they stand financially, as problems persist with the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“This is make or break for students,” said Ellie Bruecker, interim director of research at the Institute for College Access and Success. “We are really concerned about high school seniors having to make decisions about where to go to college — or whether to go to college — with such limited information.”

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In ordinary years, financial aid award letters are sent around the same time as admission letters in early spring, giving students a month or more to make informed enrollment decisions ahead of National College Decision Day on May 1.

For most students and their families, the college they choose hinges on the amount of financial aid offered and the breakdown between grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities and student loans.

However, this year, those award letters have been significantly delayed, as the U.S. Department of Education works to resolve ongoing issues with the new form. Even some applications submitted early now have to be reprocessed due to problems with applicants’ tax data. 

Decision deadlines pushed to May 15 or later

To that end, many colleges and universities have postponed their enrollment commitment deadlines to May 15 or later, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Amherst College, Purdue and Pepperdine are among the colleges and universities with a May 15 decision deadline this year.

“It’s my hope that, given a response date of May 15, students will be able to make informed decisions about where they will enroll,” Matthew McGann, Amherst’s dean of admission and financial aid, said in a statement. “It is also my hope that this extension will relieve a little bit of stress students are feeling as they head into the final stages of this year’s college admission process.” 

Some schools are also factoring in added flexibility. At Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, for example, students who confirm their enrollments by May 15 will have a period to reconsider once they receive their financial aid offer, allowing for a full refund of their deposit.

Other colleges, including Colorado State, Oklahoma State and Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, are pushing the deadline back to June 1.

“We are really just trying to encourage our campuses to be as flexible as possible,” said Charles Welch, president and CEO of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “Our No. 1 concern is making sure we give students every opportunity they can to make determinations about financial eligibility.”

A few institutions, like Fisher College in Boston, even delayed deadlines into July.

But all eight private colleges that comprise the Ivy League are sticking with May 1.

Most elite institutions are likely “not as worried about their enrollment management,” said Bruecker of the Institute for College Access and Success.

“I would wager those institutions have fewer students with financial need or they can offer institutional aid,” she said.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling created a directory of where most enrollment deadlines stand now. Here is the list.

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