Low-income Mississippi students will get an extra two months to file a federal form in order to get the state’s need-based college financial aid program.

In Mississippi, students from families generally making less than $35,900 a year qualify for the Higher Education Legislative Plan for Needy Students, or HELP, grant if they meet certain academic criteria.

To apply, students must complete two applications — the Mississippi Aid Application and the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This year, the deadline to submit MAAPP will remain March 31, but low-income students will now get until June 30 to file the FAFSA with the state’s financial aid office and confirm their family income.

The FAFSA extension comes as students and families have encountered hours-long wait times and glitchy forms after the federal government unveiled a “streamlined” process at the end of last year. 

“I do believe in the end it is going to be better, but right now it doesn’t feel that way,” Jennifer Rogers, the director of Mississippi’s financial aid office, told members of the Post-Secondary Education Financial Assistance Board who approved the new deadline on Tuesday. 

Rogers told board members she didn’t know if the extension would result in an overall increase in the cost of the HELP program. That has been a regular concern as HELP is the state’s most expensive financial aid program because it pays full tuition for all four years of college. 

Still, it’s important to ensure low-income students, who may have less support in applying for college, don’t miss out on the HELP grant, Rogers said. They likely would not be able to afford a higher education in Mississippi without it. 

“Giving students that extra time to get the FAFSA in this year when the FAFSA has changed so drastically is important to those lower-income students who don’t necessarily have the resources and the guidance and the help that other better-resourced, non-first-generation students have,” she said. “But I can’t tell you if it’s going to cost more.” 

Students who are applying for Mississippi non-need-based college financial aid grants — the Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant and the Mississippi Eminent Scholars Grant — do not need to submit the FAFSA to OSFA. The deadline for those grants is Sept. 15.

Rogers added that financial aid applications in Mississippi are on par with last year as school counselors and advocates for college access have been advising students to go ahead and fill out Mississippi’s aid application, a form that is working, while they wait for the FAFSA.

So far, about 25,500 students have applied for college financial aid in Mississippi this award cycle, compared to roughly 26,000 last year, Rogers told Mississippi Today.

READ MORE: ‘No one is losing out’ in proposed college financial aid changes, board says

Higher education reporter at Mississippi Today in partnership with Open Campus.