Why students applying for college financial aid are facing new technical hurdles

By Nadra Nittle

Tayler Monts wasted no time filling out her financial aid form for college. The senior at KIPP High School in Camden, New Jersey, plans to be the first person in her family to pursue a higher education. She got started on the latest Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) shortly after its December 30 online debut.

But she was confused by a question on the form, phrased as a double negative, she said. “I couldn’t go back in to fix it, even though on the website it says that I should theoretically be able to edit it.” She’s tried calling the Federal Student Aid hotline for help to no avail. “The lines are busy, so I’ve never gotten through.”

The new and shorter FAFSA was supposed to be easier to use. In fact, nearly four million people have submitted the 2024-’25 form since it became available, according to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “And many are getting through those forms in record time,” he said Monday during a press call. For others, the opposite is true. Technical issues have prevented families from revising, completing or submitting the application. Students whose parents lack Social Security numbers are a key group of applicants unable to finish the form because of a system glitch.

A $1.8 billion error in the formula that specifies how much aid students get also caused confusion because it didn’t account for inflation. This led to some students who qualify for financial assistance reportedly being told they did not. The Department of Education has since fixed that problem, but other hiccups remain, leading to fears that colleges won’t be able to process families’ financial data until shortly before the May 1 deadline students generally have to commit to a college. The snafus could see students choosing colleges without knowing the financial assistance they might receive or putting off college because they refuse to take that risk or have lost patience with the process entirely, experts contend.

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