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Mass. families in limbo as college financial-aid awards delayed

Families in Massachusetts will have to wait even longer for financial aid offers from colleges and universities this year because of an error in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The Department of Education said it will not send students’ financial data to schools until March, a month later than expected.

Julie Shields-Rutyna, director of college planning for the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, said it is frustrating for students waiting to hear how much they will receive before making their college choice.

“We tell them it’s really not you but they’re stressed about this process and they can’t help think, ‘I did something wrong and maybe now I’m not going to be able to go to college,'” Shields-Rutyna observed.

Shields-Rutyna pointed out an overhaul of the application was needed to simplify the process, and once corrected, it should expand the amount of financial aid available.

FAFSA helps nearly 18 million students each year cover the cost of higher education through federal student loans, work-study programs and Pell Grants for low-income students. This year’s rollout was already delayed three months before technical glitches began.

Shields-Rutyna suggested patience and perseverance are key, and the needed corrections are being made. In the meantime, she suggested families should keep in contact with their potential schools.

“If you need to send a screenshot of the date and the error message you received when you were trying to submit the FAFSA, copy that, send that, and just keep that so you have all that information for the colleges so they know you’re trying,” Shields-Rutyna recommended.

Shields-Rutyna advised families to try to complete the application and to keep trying once a week until the problem is corrected. She added the process can be stressful but free help is available.

FAFSA Day Massachusetts events are taking place through the spring, connecting families and students with experts who can guide them through what is turning out to be an unusually challenging process.

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