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New FAFSA form problematic for some, streamlined for others

By Jacqueline GaNun

A new form released this year intending to make the process easier for students to apply for federal financial aid had a troublesome rollout, according to a senior financial aid analyst.

Students could not access the new FAFSA, short for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, until December 2023, around two months later than usual, according to Jill Desjean, a senior policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. 

And when it became available, she said some students experienced an error-prone process with a form that wasn’t accessible or one that crashed frequently.

“It’s definitely been a complicated rollout, rockier than we would have expected,” Desjean said, adding that it will compress the already-tight timeline parents, students and financial aid administrators need to follow to make decisions about college.

Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act in 2020 to streamline the form used by millions of students to determine how much financial aid college they can receive through federal loans, work-study programs or need-based Pell Grants.

The form’s eligibility formula was also revamped, compounding the issues with the problematic launch, Desjean said. While the tweak will unlock $1.8 billion in funding, the new formula will delay aid calculations even more, she said.

Desjean said the form no longer assumes families can contribute all their income toward paying for college, which will ultimately result in more funding for students. But now, many colleges won’t be sending financial aid offers until April, she said.

“Students will have, instead of many months, as short as just one month to be able to make those decisions and do all the things that they usually had several months to do,” Desjean said. “I think it will impact the way students decide to go to college.”

Despite the challenges for many applicants, Desjean said the form has been streamlined for families who have been able to complete it. That was Neil Mathis’ experience. 

He recently filled out the FAFSA for his son, who attends the University of Georgia, and his daughter, who is a senior in high school. He said the new form is straightforward and simple as long as you have your tax forms readily available.

“I think on the back end it has been kind of clunky, but as a parent, it hasn’t really felt that way,” Mathis said.

Mathis said the delay in aid offers is not ideal, but he’s not feeling stressed about his daughter’s college selection process.

“It’s not like we as an individual family are negatively impacted while everybody else is sort of coasting through,” Mathis said. “At the end of the day, you just sort of go, it is what it is. And we’re all sort of just going to manage around it.”

Desjean said financial aid departments are well aware of the rocky rollout and will work with students if they experience problems with the FAFSA. She recommended students keep a record of any problems they encounter. 

Her biggest piece of advice is to fill out the form as soon as possible.

“If you haven’t done it just because you haven’t gotten around to it, please go and do it,” Desjean said.

Jacqueline GaNun is a master’s student in journalism at the University of Georgia.

 

 

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