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Why Colleges Must Extend Their Enrollment Deadline

Most of the students I work with are low-income or middle-class. These students represent the majority of the students applying to college. I’m worried about the FAFSA rollout because students don’t have enough time to weigh their financial options and visit schools by May 1st, “the National Enrollment Deadline.” In the best interest of students and their families, I urge colleges to push their enrollment deadline to at least May 15th for all students. 

During this month, in a normal year, I would break down financial aid packages for the schools my students have been accepted to so far so they could see how financial aid works in real-time and have more (and hopefully better) packages to look forward to. I would also start meeting with juniors and their families. In a normal year, students typically have two months to consider their financial options for college. With the FAFSA processing delayed until “mid-March,” I currently can’t give my students an accurate picture of the debt they will accrue after graduating in four years. I also have not met with juniors and their families one-on-one to start their college application journey.

All I can do now is provide an “educated” guess based on merit scholarships, predicted Pell, max Federal Student Loan, and if they are accepted into a New York school, New York State TAP grants. I can’t account for need-based aid from colleges, work-study, and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant since these things vary at every school. So, my guesses can be off. In addition, due to my caseload size, this guesswork can’t be done for every student, especially since my students have applied to over 28 colleges (thanks to our state’s two public college systems accounting for about half of that number). These financial aid lessons only occur in chance encounters when I’m trying to convince a student to complete a task for a college that could greatly benefit them, such as completing the application process for a school’s Higher Education Opportunity Program.

One of my biggest worries with the processing delay is for the students who applied to more than 20 colleges (as the FAFSA only allows for 20 colleges at a time to be listed), which is easy to do in my state and other states like California. Not every student puts their most important/favorite 20 colleges first on the FAFSA. I’ve had some students list their colleges alphabetically on the FAFSA to avoid confusion with the following list they submit. I expect further delays with aid packages from colleges that didn’t make a student’s initial list of 20. This worries me because I might not be able to break down all of my students’ financial aid packages in a timely manner.

When the processing delay was announced, and I saw colleges changing their enrollment deadline that day, I decided to keep track of these changes on an open-source Google Sheet that I clean up occasionally. Alongside the University of California, California State and CUNY systems, almost 200 colleges and universities have changed their enrollment deadline. While there isn’t any benefit to colleges that use College Board’s CSS Profile to change their enrollment date, since they can predict federal and state aid with the form, Williams College became the first CSS school to change its enrollment date. Amherst College followed recently.

Colleges are supposed to be a public good. They are supposed to produce a new generation of responsible, active, tax-paying citizens. With that said, all colleges, even the ones that use the CSS Profile, should feel a duty to push back their enrollment deadline.

It’s crucial that we give students and families a chance to fully consider all of their college options in a reasonable timeframe. For most students, this is their first substantial financial decision. It can have ever-lasting effects on their life. Colleges should let the quality of their programs, campus, and financial aid fill their first-year class, not an early deadline.

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