Despite a rocky FAFSA rollout, don’t give up on financial aid!

By Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline), Chairman of the PHEAA Board of Directors – It’s no secret that this year’s financial aid application season has been disruptive. Somehow in making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, of FAFSA, easier, things managed to get a whole lot more complicated.

The application launch was delayed nearly 3 months due to changes implemented by the FAFSA Simplification Act. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) introduced the 2024-25 FAFSA on December 31, 2023, but has since encountered a number of issues, delays, and errors in processing student applications.

Here at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), we rely on the FAFSA form as the primary application point to assess student eligibility for a PA State Grant award and other state aid.

When it comes to the PA State Grant, there’s been some confusion around deadlines, so we wanted to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

The June 1 deadline we have been promoting was only for filing the FAFSA to be eligible for a PA State Grant. That’s for those students who plan to enroll in a degree program or a college transferable program at a 2-year private college or other college or university.

For students planning to enroll in a community college; a designated Pennsylvania Open-Admission institution; a business, trade, or technical school; a hospital school of nursing; or a 2-year program that is not transferable to another institution — you must submit the FAFSA by August 1.

Now that accurate student records have been provided to states, PHEAA is working to ingest the 350,000+ FAFSAs into our new GrantUs platform. It is anticipated that all FAFSAs completed to date will be uploaded into the PHEAA system by the first week of July.
Once a student’s FAFSA is uploaded into PHEAA’s system, the student will receive an email from the GrantUs system inviting them to activate their account to complete the PA State Grant Form, if required. Most renewal students will only need to activate their account and are not required to  complete additional documentation.

If you have not yet received an email from PHEAA/GrantUs with instructions…don’t panic! You still have time to benefit from the PA State Grant and other state aid – provided that your student filed the FAFSA by June 1. The good news for families is there is no immediate deadline for the filing of the PA State Grant Form.

Did you miss the June 1 deadline? You should still fill out the FAFSA because there’s other aid that may be available. Federal student financial assistance such as Pell grants, Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and work-study employment programs use the information you provide on your FAFSA to determine your eligibility. School aid programs, including private grants and need-based scholarships, also use the FAFSA data.

Families that need additional help should check to see if college access professionals in their area are hosting any events to assist families with FAFSA completion. In Pennsylvania, PHEAA has a team of 13 Higher Education Access Partners strategically located throughout the state. They partner with local high schools, colleges, and community organizations to help families complete the FAFSA.

PHEAA also offers an array of FAFSA and other free financial aid information on pheaa.org, as well as toolkits to further assist families. College financial aid professionals and high school counselors can also be a valuable resource when navigating this process.

It’s been an interesting year in the financial aid world…but your dreams – and our mission – of affordable access to high education are still very attainable. We’re here to help!