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FAFSA changes bring stress, uncertainty to class of 2024

Each spring, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors anxiously await their final college decisions. This year, many are anxious for another reason.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone a slew of changes this year. Initially, the form was pushed back from the traditional October opening date to December 31. Many families spent their New Year’s Eve not only anxiously awaiting the ball drop, but the FAFSA form too. 


The deadline was pushed back due to the implementation of the FAFSA Simplification Act. The act, passed in December of 2020, “represents a significant overhaul of federal student aid, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form, need analysis, and many policies and procedures for schools that participate in the Title IV programs.” In theory, the act was passed to allow direct data exchange with the IRS to simplify the FAFSA process. However, families across America have expressed frustration with the changes.


In the first days after the form opening on December 31, 2023, high website traffic crashed the site. The form was unavailable for many, and those who could access it seemed to be stuck in a permanent digital waiting room. 


“Pretty much since January, I’ve been trying to get the website to work and I constantly run into errors; the website would crash or would just not function properly. It would say ‘We can’t complete this action at this time,’ things like that,” senior Theo Coimbra said. “That kept repeating until like late February when we finally managed to get in.”


Months after its opening, some families are finally able to access the form–but not without putting up a fight.


“We had to contact the FAFSA support crew and have them work through it because apparently there was something wrong in our settings. There was nothing telling us that was wrong, they were just saying ‘Hey, something’s not right’ but it wouldn’t tell us what so we had to go chase after it,” Coimbra said. “Even now, I’m still not done with it (the FAFSA form). I still need to finish something up because of the maintenance.”


Difficulties accessing the form have had significant impacts on the entire college application experience for this year’s graduating class.


“I have had more students check in with me about this than in the past. I have had more asking questions and wanting scholarship help due to the uncertainty of their financial aid packages,” Jennifer Kerbrat, Career Development Facilitator, said.


In addition, though many colleges have since changed their deadlines, some early-action applicants were left in the air. For example, Coimbra applied to the University of Southern California, who initially set their financial aid date for January 12, 2024, for early action applicants–just 12 days after the site opened and was still under maintenance. USC later released a statement on their admissions Instagram stating, “We understand that there may be some challenges completing the FAFSA. Do your best to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. USC will continue to review applications received after the deadline. Contact Federal Student Aid if you are continuing to experience issues with the FAFSA.” 


USC provides just one insight into how college financial aid offices have been struggling to adapt to the changes as well.


“Most, if not all colleges/universities have been affected,” Kerbrat said. “Most have pushed back their due dates for the FAFSA to be completed and have pushed back their college decision day of May 1st.  It is extremely important for the student and their family to keep checking the student portal to make sure that dates have not changed and/or if they have to submit revision/updates to their FAFSA once it has been processed so that the school receives the most accurate information.”


Kerbrat recommends students stay up to date on resources provided by the counseling team, such as the Counseling Newsletter and Schoology page, as well as the FAFSA website and MI Student Aid website.


If you have questions that you cannot find the answers to, please reach out to your counselor or myself for help.  We might have the answer or additional resources to provide the student,” Kerbrat said.


FAFSA forms are now on track to be sent to schools at some point in March, leaving financial aid packages up in the air until at least April. With some final decision deadlines looming in early May, this leaves students and families guessing as to what their best financial option will be. 


“I want to get my information and get my decisions for college as early as possible to get everything out of the way so I don’t have to be in a rush while studying for AP tests and all that,” Coimbra said. “It’s just a whole lot of trouble for something that really shouldn’t be that complicated.”

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Arieis Feldpausch
Arieis Feldpausch, Editor in Chief
Arieis “A” Feldpausch is a senior. This is her third year on staff. In her free time, Arieis enjoys indie folk music (specifically The Mountain Goats), rollerblading and roller derby, playing guitar, and writing poetry. You can email her with story ideas at [email protected] or [email protected] 
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