April 13, 2024

Dealing With FAFSA Glitches and Confusion? Here’s What You Can Do

The redesigned 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available around the clock, following a weeklong soft launch, during which the form was open for as little as 30 minutes a day. Although the new form is simpler and shorter, students and families are still contending with technical glitches, changed processes and confusing questions.

“There have been some bumps in the road in terms of accessibility and functionality,” says Steve Colón, CEO of Bottom Line, a college access organization that works with first-generation students from low-income backgrounds in New York City, Boston, Chicago and Ohio. “On the positive side, we’ve heard that for some students it’s taking about 20 minutes to complete the FAFSA, which is wildly different from what it was before.” In recent years, completing the FAFSA could take an hour or longer.

Experts urge students to submit the new FAFSA as soon as possible, since some types of financial aid have priority deadlines or draw from a limited pool. About 1 million students have submitted the new FAFSA as of Jan. 8, according to U.S. Education Department data. That’s roughly 6% of the 17 million who typically submit the form each year.

Perplexed about something on the new FAFSA? Here are its five most-confusing aspects, and strategies to deal with them — so you can submit your form ASAP.

1. Persistent technical glitches

Technical glitches on the FAFSA can be frustrating. For example, some users report getting repeatedly logged out before they can finish their form. If you encounter issues like this, it’s OK to take a break and come back to the form a bit later.

“There is not a huge rush on filling it out today versus tomorrow,” says Karen McCarthy, vice president of public policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “So it is possible to come back in a few days, and hopefully, some of these glitches will be worked out by that point in time.”

Other glitches remain baked into the form. For example, some school names are getting cut off on the FAFSA. This can be confusing if a school you’d like to send your FAFSA to has multiple campuses. If this happens, students can do an internet search for a school’s Federal School Code, and use that number to pull it up in the FAFSA.

The situation is evolving day by day. The latest list of known FAFSA glitches and workarounds is available on StudentAid.gov.

2. You can’t correct submitted answers until late January

If you submitted your portion of the FAFSA but realized you made an error, you may have to wait a few weeks until you can fix it.

Students will receive an email with their FAFSA Submission Summary — which details submitted answers, Pell Grant eligibility and their Student Aid Index — once the Department of Education processes their completed form, which is slated to start in late January. Then, you can make any necessary corrections to your submitted answers.

Even if you make a correction later on, it won’t change the submission time stamp on your FAFSA, McCarthy says. This could be important for students applying for financial aid that is first come, first served or that has an early application deadline.

“If a correction is made on January 30, that application date is not updated to January 30. It still records when the FAFSA was initially filed,” McCarthy says.

3. Undocumented parents can’t access the form yet

There’s a new process for undocumented parents to request an FSA ID this year — but it’s not working yet, and there’s no timeline for when it will be. Until this issue is fixed, students whose parents don’t have Social Security numbers (SSNs) cannot submit the FAFSA.

Taking some time to get organized now can help you complete the FAFSA more easily once it’s available. If you’re a parent without an SSN, continue to reach out to support structures, like college access organizations or school counselors, Colón says.

“The moment that the tool becomes available, it’s critical to get in there and get started,” says Colón. “While it is a greatly simplified form, it’s not going to be for students whose parents don’t have an SSN, so it’s going to be really important that they get all their financial paperwork ready as soon as possible to give themselves the time they will need to complete the form.”

4. Invitation process for contributors

This year, students and parents fill out and submit their relevant portion of the FAFSA separately. Either the student starts and completes their portion of the FAFSA and “invites” the parent, or a parent can start and complete their section, then they invite the student.

That’s different from past years, when a dependent student and their parents had to sit down together and fill out a single form.

“It’s a role-based process, where it was not before,” says Jodi Vanden Berge, director of college planning and outreach at EducationQuest, a Nebraska-based college access nonprofit.

5. Confusing questions

Though the new FAFSA is generally more straightforward than in years past, borrowers have reported that several questions are confusing or unclear. Here are two to watch out for:

Free lunch question

Under the federal benefits question — At any time during 2022 or 2023, did the student or anyone in their family receive benefits from any of the following federal programs? — “free or reduced-price school lunch” is an option.

This has proved confusing, since some school districts introduced free and reduced lunch programs for all students, regardless of their family’s financial situation, during the pandemic.

If a student received free or reduced lunch, regardless of the circumstances, they should indicate that on the FAFSA, says Vanden Berge.

Dependency question

Some students have reported confusion about this new question used to establish dependency: Are the student’s parents unwilling to provide their information, but the student doesn’t have an unusual circumstance that prevents them from contacting or obtaining their parents’ information?

If a student selects “yes” — that they don’t want to provide parent information — then, the parent can’t fill out their section of the FAFSA, Vanden Berge says. This would disqualify a student from most federal financial aid, apart from direct unsubsidized loans, meaning they can’t access grants, work-study or subsidized loans, which don’t accrue interest while they’re in school.

If you do make a mistake, remember that you can request a correction once your form is processed.

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