Families face problems with FAFSA form; Here's what officials have to say

ByNydia Han and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Thursday, January 4, 2024
Families face problems filling out FAFSA forms
Families face problems with FAFSA form; Here's what officials have to say

A document you have to submit in order to qualify for financial aid for college is plaguing thousands of families trying to complete the FAFSA form.

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It's what millions fill out each year to ask for financial help for college.

The Department of Education has launched a new, simplified form online. The problem is a lot of people can't access it and late Wednesday, the feds admitted to the Troubleshooters it has had hiccups.

"My daughter's a high school senior, it's our first time having a child go through the process," said Jacqueline DeChamps of Lansdale, Montgomery County.

And so far, the process has not been a smooth one.

"The FAFSA application normally opens in October, it's a very important step," she said.

The Department of Education was supposed to launch a new, "better" FAFSA form on October 1. When it finally launched on December 30, it was up for only 30 minutes.

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Families were told to try again the next day.

"And so it's funny because all the parents that were all you know, friendly, were like, alright, our New Year's Eve is gonna be like, FAFSA application night, so it's gonna be a lot of fun," said DeChamps.

But on December 31, the FAFSA application form was open for only 30 minutes again, and on New Year's Day, it was available for only two hours and the problems continued.

"All day yesterday, I could not get in, there was a flood of traffic again, this morning, I couldn't get in," she said. "My Facebook page was just parents saying I'm in the waiting room like Taylor Swift tickets, just trying to get in."

The Department of Education reportedly says it is working to resolve minor issues and it is now calling this a "soft launch," saying the site is open but "for short periods of time" so it can "monitor site performance and update the form to provide you with a better experience."

"But the challenge is right now most of our students are hearing from universities. These universities, they're waiting on your FAFSA in order to kind of finalize right your, your offer package and so it is a stressful time for seniors," DeChamps stated.

For now, the feds' only advice is: "If your form is unavailable when you or your family members try to access it, please try again later."

The Department of Education now says the site has been open "for the majority of the day" and if you submit your form during the soft launch, your information will be saved so at least you won't need to re-submit your form or any related information.

As of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, 225,000 applications have been successfully submitted.

Meanwhile, experts tell us if you're having trouble don't panic. In fact, wait a few days before trying again.

But do use this time to get all of your paperwork and information for the application ready.

From the Department of Education:

"A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson confirms the launch included pauses for site maintenance and real-time monitoring but says the site is now open for the majority of the day so the government can "monitor and respond in real-time to any potential issues impacting the applicant experience." adding the waiting room is to "manage site volume and capacity."

As of 12:30 pm 1/3, 225 thousand applications were successfully submitted.

Over 400,000 people have started or completed their FAFSA applications

By the end of yesterday (Tuesday, Jan. 2), over 150,000 applications had been successfully submitted, and over 250,000 more are in progress (which in most cases means that a user has completed their portion of the form and a contributor will need to complete their portion)

Opened up the application for the following windows: a 30-minute window on December 30, a 30-minute window on December 31st, and a two-hour window on January 1.

On December 30th and 31st, thousands of applications were successfully submitted. Had the form open from 10:30 am-4:30 pm yesterday.

This soft launch period and pauses allow the Department to monitor site performance through real-world use and make updates to the form as needed to create a better FAFSA experience for students and families.

Integrating real-time learning and pauses is consistent with best practices, especially for a new website that is required to provide permutations for many different peoples' situations and includes updating dozens of systems, some of which have not been updated in almost 50 years, and it involves sensitive personally identifiable information and financial information that must be protected and adhered to the top privacy standards. This has allowed our teams to work through specific issues as they have been detected so others do not encounter these issues going forward. It also provides our team an opportunity to look back at the data and application experience of the thousands of people who have already successfully submitted their 2024-25 FAFSA forms and replicate their experience for all users.

The better FAFSA form will make college more affordable and a reality for more students. It will help 610,000 more students receive Pell for the first time and allow 1.5 million more students to get the maximum Pell grant, bringing the total number of students eligible for the maximum Pell to more than 5.2 million. It is the vision and commitment of the Biden-Harris Administration to make higher education more accessible and attainable including making applying for financial aid faster and easier than ever before."