What We’ve Learned Since the FAFSA Launch
February 9, 2024
By Brendan Williams, Anika Van Eaton
After years of discussion, we’re over one month into the much-awaited release of the "Better" 2024-25 FAFSA. As with any new product release, we expected some initial difficulties for students and families completing their FAFSAs, and there are many. Depending on who you talk to, experiences range from an inability to submit the form to a simple and fast submission. Through our work with students and practitioners nationwide, we've seen the challenges –and some successes. Let's dive into what we've learned so far.
Submitting the 2024-25 FAFSA is difficult due to technical glitches and other problems.
Federal Student Aid (FSA) has identified many of these issues and plans to provide regular updates. However, uAspire’s advisors regularly encounter additional problems not included on the FSA’s list. These unresolved issues make the experience challenging for students and families.
It is crucial for advisors to monitor these issues and follow up as they are resolved to ensure that students share accurate information with colleges on their FAFSAs.
"Completing the FAFSA this time around was no easy feat, as many of my peers and I have experienced a ton of complications and delays. While it's intended to be simpler, it was anything but because it was frequently undergoing maintenance. Most of the time when I logged on, I was unable to complete my application all at once, delaying the aid I need to pay for college tuition and other expenses.”
–Tara, New York college student
The new process for individuals without a Social Security Number does not work.Parents who do not have SSNs are unable to access or begin the FAFSA. Moreover, the FSA ID creation process for these parents is also quite challenging, as very few have been able to confirm their identity with knowledge-based questions, leaving them with no choice but to call an overburdened FAFSA helpline.
As these difficulties persist, we recommend that these families mail in paper FAFSAs while they continue to navigate the online FAFSA process if financial aid deadlines are approaching.
“My mom not having an SSN prevented me from filling out my part of the FAFSA for over a month–I kept getting error messages. I opened the form a few days ago, and it miraculously allowed me to complete my section. Once I could bypass the parent section, I completed the form in ten minutes.”
–Michelle, Massachusetts college student
FAFSA Submission Summaries and financial aid offers will be delayed.On January 30, FSA announced that they would update tables used in the Student Aid Index (SAI) calculation that detail the allowances against income and assets reported on the FAFSA. According to the department, this adjustment will increase students' access to $1.8 billion in federal financial aid. However, now the Department of Education needs to update the FAFSA, delaying the transmission of FAFSA information (ISIRs) to schools and state agencies to the first half of March, an additional six-week delay. As a result, students won’t receive their FAFSA submission summaries or be able to add colleges or make corrections to their FAFSAs until mid-March, and most colleges won’t send out financial aid offers until April.
The FSA contact centers are overwhelmed. Sometimes, the best advice we can give students is to call FSA for help. However, due to the high volume of calls, wait times to get support can be more than 2 hours, which is unrealistic for students, parents, and counselors during the school and work day.
“Parents without an SSN are urged to call to verify, but I have been calling for the last month, and even after waiting on the line for half an hour, sometimes, it abruptly disconnects. I have not been able to complete and submit the form because I cannot reach an agent on the phone number provided.”
–Michelle, Massachusetts college student
Making FAFSA corrections will be critical.
When students experience issues and accidentally submit a FAFSA, they won’t be able to access it again until it is processed in mid-March. This means that any errors will sit in the system, and students will need to remember to log back in and make corrections when they receive a FAFSA Submission Summary.
When the FAFSA is functioning properly, it streamlines the process of filling it out. There are fewer questions to answer, and they are simpler because the IRS directly transfers tax information onto the form, and this transfer process has improved. This gives us hope that the FAFSA will be simpler next year and beyond.
When the FAFSA works, it works.
“The new FAFSA is very smooth and easy to navigate from the student's perspective. It doesn’t require us to fill out countless pages anymore. There are still some bugs on the website due to many people filling out the form simultaneously. It shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to fill it out.”
–Eraste, Massachusetts college student