Eui Young Kim, Contributing Photographer

In 2020, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act, which intended to simplify the application process for and expand access to federal student aid beginning with the 2024-25 academic year.

But rollout this year of the modified FAFSA is occurring on a months-delayed timeline, forcing many colleges to push back deadlines for students to respond to their offers of admission, and leaving many students to choose a college without final financial aid offers.

But federal delays will not affect Yale College’s ability to release initial financial aid offers to admitted students, according to Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Kari DiFonzo. Come Thursday, when regular admission decisions are released, admitted students will receive an initial financial aid offer detailing the amounts their families are expected to contribute toward their Yale education, DiFonzo said. When FAFSA information becomes available, families will receive a follow-up financial aid package, specifying how much aid will come from Yale and how much will come from federal Pell Grants.

“There are many reasons why the process of completing a financial aid offer can take longer for some families, but, thankfully, the FAFSA delays are not impeding our ability to assess families’ need and package offers,” DiFonzo told the News. “The proportion of admitted students with completed financial aid offers at the time admissions decisions are released is very similar to last year.”

The goal of the FAFSA Simplification Act was to make the application for federal student aid as easy as possible, but rollout problems caused more harm than good, DiFonzo said.

In a normal year, the FAFSA form is released for families in October. This year, however, due to complications with system changes, the system did not launch until late December.

“Many families — those who were able to access the system — were able to complete the form in maybe 10 minutes or less,” DiFonzo said. “The problem has really been with the rollout. It came out much, much later than it should have. Even when it was introduced, it was intermittently available, and it was down for maintenance all the time.”

According to DiFonzo, when assembling a student’s financial aid package, Yale looks at the “full financial aid profile” of their family, using information from the student’s CSS profile, their FAFSA documents and their federal tax documents.

The Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid uses a process called “institutional methodology,” when determining a family’s financial aid package, DiFonzo explained. This allows financial aid officers to gauge a family’s financial need without access to FAFSA documents, using only information from their CSS profile.

Because of Yale’s robust financial aid program, the role of the FAFSA in the assembly of a financial aid offer is mainly to determine what amount of a family’s aid will come from federal dollars, DiFonzo said.

“What we do is we start with the total cost of attendance, and then subtract out the family share that we calculate, and then you are left with a student’s total need,” she said. “That total need can be thought of as a big bucket, one which is filled both with Yale financial aid dollars and federal financial aid dollars. So the role of the FAFSA is really just in figuring out how much of that need bucket is filled with federal aid versus institutional aid.”

Yale has the resources to meet 100 percent of every student’s demonstrated financial need, DiFonzo said; however, she added that the financial aid office counts on some portion of the aid given out being subsidized by federal dollars in the form of Pell Grants.

But because of Yale’s promise to meet all demonstrated need, it is possible to send out initial offers without FAFSA information detailing how much of their financial aid will come from Pell Grants. According to DiFonzo, the initial offers will be less about telling families exactly how much financial aid they will receive from Yale and more about making families aware of how much they should plan to pay for the following academic year.

“I feel strongly that students and families need as much time as possible to plan,” DiFonzo said. “If we wait until we’ve had the opportunity to review all of the FAFSAs, which likely won’t be until July, one or two months of a payment plan will have already passed. The bill will already have been posted. This way, at least families can start thinking about what their payment plans will look like.” 

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan echoed the importance of giving families as much time as possible to plan. 

Cost is typically the top concern for most admitted students, Quinlan told the News, so releasing these initial packages will give families ample time to process their aid packages and ask questions.

Despite a delayed and complicated rollout of FAFSA this year, the financial aid office is not making any adjustments to its timeline for returning students. There is an April 1 priority deadline for returning students to submit their financial aid applications.

DiFonzo said it is possible that financial aid packages for current students, which are scheduled to begin releasing in the coming weeks, might also be released without FAFSA information and adjusted later on.

Every financial aid package sent out to an incoming first-year student includes a cover letter from DiFonzo that explains information about Yale’s financial aid program and the contents of their aid packet. Historically, returning students’ aid packages do not include a similar letter.

However, DiFonzo said that due to this year’s FAFSA complications, returning students will also get a cover letter from the office along with their initial financial aid package detailing that there may be changes to their financial aid package once their FAFSA is reviewed on the delayed timeline.

These discrepancies between the financial aid package given in the coming weeks and those given when the FAFSAs are all processed may also occur for incoming students. 

Although the information on a student’s CSS Profile should align with that on their FAFSA form, DiFonzo said there are occasional discrepancies. In previous years, such discrepancies have been resolved by clarifying certain details with families before releasing their aid packages. 

But because this year’s FAFSA forms will be released after initial aid packages have already been sent out, if there is discrepant information between a student’s CSS Profile and their FAFSA, the office might have to make slight changes to a family’s financial aid offer, according to DiFonzo.

“We are making sure that, when we send out initial financial aid packages, we are saying clearly to students that this is not a final financial aid offer,” DiFonzo said. “Rather, it is a tentative offer, pending review of their FAFSA; if students qualify for federal aid, their Yale financial aid package might change. We want students to understand that they will get another letter later on, but their end result — the amount their family is expected to pay — will be the same.”

The Yale College Council has been campaigning for years for increased transparency from the financial aid office, according to YCC president Julian Suh-Toma ’25.

Suh-Toma said that, while he is happy with the office’s decision to communicate initial assessments to students as quickly as possible, he is worried about the possibility of packages shifting pending new information from FAFSA documents.

“This plan of action feels like the best of a poor lot in the face of an admissions cycle where families may otherwise have no estimated cost of attendance to work off of,” Suh-Toma wrote in a message to the News.

The FAFSA was first issued in 1992 with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Molly Reinmann covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Westchester, New York, she is a sophomore in Berkeley College majoring in American Studies.