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The FAFSA Fiasco Is Preventing Our Seniors From Choosing A College

FAFSA Financial Aid problems for college seniors

As our kids’ senior year ends, I think of past years when my Facebook feed was overflowing with my friends’ “decision” photos of their soon-to-be graduates.

Instead of being excited and sharing the photos of our son’s BIG college decision and our family wearing our college sweatshirts, I am madly refreshing my computer screen, hoping to see that my son’s FAFSA status has changed from “in review” to “processed.” And that “processed” means the schools we selected have received our financial aid determination from the federal government.

You see, by this date, in years past, parents were certain of the financial aid they would receive to send their student to college. Families had their offer package early in the year if not the past December. They had time to mull it over, submit appeals, and then take the time to decide, well before the May 1st decision date that guarantees your child’s housing, which offers to accept.

Parents of the class of 2024 should already have that information. We should already be well on our way to signing that dotted line, but just like me, thousands of families are still waiting for the Federal government to process our FAFSA applications.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be a straightforward process. Instead, this year, it has been marred by a significant setback—a glitch-ridden website that has left students in limbo, unsure if they’ll receive the financial support they desperately need to pursue higher education.

The class of 2024 is the same class that endured their freshman year of high school amidst the chaos of COVID-19 shutdowns; this delay adds insult to injury. These students are still reeling with the mental health ramifications of the social isolation that was beginning school with classmates they didn’t know and were not allowed to connect with as they sat 6 feet away at the lunch tables or isolated in classrooms. Forget worrying about being bullied at the lunch table; these students sat all alone. For many, most of the year was spent at home, alone in their rooms, sitting behind a screen doing school virtually. Our students began their high school careers with unprecedented uncertainty, and now, these young individuals face yet another obstacle in their educational journey.

Technical difficulties plagued the FAFSA website during the crucial application period, rendering it inaccessible or slow to load for many users. As a result, students encountered error messages, time-outs, and other issues that hindered their ability to complete and submit their applications on time. 

The application frustration is now compounded by the inability to correct or modify their applications even though they were told once the applications were processed, that would not be a problem. These delays have also impeded access to information about their aid status or the amount of assistance they could expect.

Imagine the anxiety and uncertainty these students face as they navigate the already daunting college application process. For many, financial aid is the linchpin that determines whether higher education remains within reach or becomes an unattainable dream. Without timely access to this crucial information, they are left in a state of limbo, unable to plan for their future with confidence.

This uncertainty creates a ripple effect of stress. Students must make important decisions about housing, meal plans, and even class schedules – all of which depend on their financial aid package. Without a clear picture of their financial situation, they’re forced to put these decisions on hold, adding yet another layer of anxiety to an already overwhelming time.

This isn’t just an inconvenience – it’s a real problem with real consequences. The students facing these delays are the same class who navigated their freshman year of high school during the unprecedented challenges of virtual learning. They’ve already shown remarkable resilience, and they shouldn’t be penalized for issues beyond their control. 

We decided to find schools that accepted the CSS (there aren’t many) and add them to our Common Application. The CSS is a much more complicated and demanding financial aid application that goes through the College Board. Still, schools get a more accurate representation of your finances. Some schools will offer at least an initial financial aid package with this information.

In the meantime, students and families affected by the FAFSA fiasco must find ways to stay hopeful. The road is rocky, but resources are available to help navigate these challenges, from guidance counselors and financial aid advisors to community organizations dedicated to supporting students through the college application process.

Personally, I have found that the financial aid advisors at all of the schools at the top of our list have been extremely helpful. This is a nationwide problem. Almost everyone I have spoken to is waiting to make their college decision based on their financial decision.

Imagine that ripple effect. If you and your five friends haven’t decided, and their five friends, and so on, and so on, that means that the colleges also do not know who will be attending. Most students who are given merit-based scholarships usually would have accepted or declined their admissions decisions, freeing up more funds for students appealing their decisions. And guess what? The students still have to decide by May 1st! 

Our students deserve better. They’ve faced unprecedented challenges, and they shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to pursue higher education due to a flawed website. The best thing we can do for them right now is to stay positive and keep the talk about the anxiety and frustration that we are feeling to a minimum around them. I realized a little too late that my anxious silence was actually making my son more anxious. He said he could tell I wasn’t being “normal” and knew that meant I was worried. So, I opened up the line of communication by using more positive language.

His future college might not be the one we thought it would be, but I am sure he will go to college. As the FAFSA applications start to trickle into college financial aid offices, you can be assured that you will hear something from someone soon. Whether it gives you enough time to appeal the decision or you will be forced to choose a different school based on the financial aid package alone, I have been assured that you can continue the appeals process at most schools into the school year. While we never want to go into a college experience with this thought, our kids can transfer if they decide they didn’t land where they were supposed to be. Better yet, maybe this delay in decision-making will be a blessing in disguise, and they will realize they landed just where they were supposed to be all along.

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