FAFSA Delays Pose Challenges for Students Finalizing College Plans

Coping with the long wait for college financial aid offers has been a significant concern for Kamila Juarez, a senior at Grace Davis High School in Modesto. The extended timeline, a result of FAFSA’s delayed release, has added to the uncertainty.

Expressing her apprehension, Juarez commented, “It’s kind of stressful, just because I know that when I do know how much I get, it’s going to be pretty fast. So knowing that I have all this waiting time, I can’t really do much about it besides apply for scholarships and await responses. It’s pretty suspenseful.”

A revamped version of FAFSA was launched by the U.S. Department of Education on Dec. 31, 2023 – three months later than the regular Oct. 1 release date. The delay was attributed to the unpreparedness of the new form. The revised FAFSA aimed to simplify the process for families and enhance efficiency to provide aid to more students through a new formula.

Due to FAFSA availability issues, approximately 5.7 million students have completed the application successfully, a significant drop from the average 17 million applicants at this point in prior years. The shortened timeline created challenges for families seeking financial aid.

The Education Department’s deadline for sending student financial aid data to colleges and universities elapsed last week, causing a delay in schools receiving the information. Additionally, on Friday, the Education Department revealed a miscalculation in the FAFSA formula, leading to incorrect financial need information being sent to several hundred thousand students.

As a reaction to the delays, all nine UC campuses have extended their Intent to Register deadline to May 15, with all 23 CSU campuses following suit. Despite the deadline extension, some students find it challenging to make decisions about the 2024-25 academic year without knowing their financial aid package.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Monday extending the state’s financial aid deadline to provide students with more time to seek state aid programs.

Juarez mentioned receiving scholarships from Sonoma State University and California State University, Monterey Bay, but she awaits her financial aid packages from all schools before finalizing her decision.

Highlighting her priorities, Juarez shared, “My biggest (factor) is financial aid, as well as location.”

Discussing her aspirations, Juarez mentioned her desire to attend either Cal Poly San Luis Obispo or UCLA to pursue studies in city planning or geography and environmental science.

Finean Hunter-Kenney, a senior from Lowell High School in San Francisco, also expressed how the FAFSA delays have affected his college commitment decision. He emphasized the importance of financial information before making a final choice on where to attend college.

Hunter-Kenney disclosed, “I can’t make any decision on where to go to college without all the financial info. Right now I’m in the process of committing to Chapman University to play baseball, but I can’t make that decision final until I see how much FAFSA will pay for because the tuition is really expensive.”

Feeling the time pressure with a May 1 deadline, Hunter-Kenney emphasized the necessity of financial aid information in his decision-making process regarding college selection.

Isabella Gentile, a communication studies major at Pasadena City College, shared that financial aid influenced her decision to focus on in-state public universities for transfer applications to avoid financial uncertainties associated with private or out-of-state schools.

Gentile explained, “I know I would receive more money if I attended a UC school versus if I attended a private school, which impacted my decision to not apply to somewhere like USC.”

However, Gentile noted that the transfer and financial aid procedures have been relatively smooth for her, as she was able to complete all necessary submissions.

Addressing technical challenges faced by some students during the FAFSA process, Laura Burtness, a college and career adviser at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, highlighted issues related to students’ citizenship status.

Burtness observed, “There is difficulty for mixed residency families or families where not all claim U.S. citizenship.” Common problems included error messages and application rejections when parents lack social security numbers, categorized as ‘eligible non-citizens’ for FAFSA purposes.

The Education Department announced in late February that students with at least one parent without a social security number could successfully submit FAFSA forms in the first half of March.

Expressing her concern for the students she advises, Burtness emphasized the time-sensitive nature of the situation, especially with graduation approaching at the end of May.

Eric Guerrero, a political science major at Los Angeles Pierce College, faced recurring technical issues with his FAFSA application, spending weeks troubleshooting before finally submitting it in late January.

Guerreo plans to transfer to a four-year university, aiming for UCLA, and he mentioned how the FAFSA challenges added complexity to his transfer process.

Sharing his experience, Guerrero recounted, “Every time I tried it, it was crashing or it wouldn’t load. It was so hectic. Trying to get it done was horrible, and I was really nervous. Eventually, one random night at like 2 in the morning, it finally went through.”

Ashley Bolter is a fourth-year journalism student minoring in French and ethnic studies at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Delilah Brumer is a sophomore at Los Angeles Pierce College majoring in journalism and political science. Kelcie Lee is a first-year student at UC Berkeley majoring in history and sociology. Abbie Phillips is a third-year journalism student minoring in Spanish at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. All are members of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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