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Glitches with new FAFSA form leave prospective college students in limbo

In World
March 01, 2024

High school senior Jailyn James of New Jersey is a three-sport athlete with good grades and six college acceptance letters.

James will be the first in her family to attend college. But where she ends up depends on the amount of financial aid she receives from each school — offers she should already have.

“My mom will not let me commit without knowing my financial aid,” James said. “I don’t want to come out of college with a bunch of debt.”

The delays are due to the U.S. Department of Education’s overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA. The form is now shorter and simpler, but computer glitches have led to a botched rollout.

Typically, FAFSA forms are released on Oct. 1. Once submitted, the data is sent to colleges within one to three days, and it is then used to calculate financial aid.

But the updated application forms came out three months late, on Dec. 30, 2023. And schools will not receive the data until the first half of March.

The delay has forced some colleges to push their financial aid deadlines. Last week, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education announced that its 10 state universities will extend the student commitment deadline to May 15.

“Some universities are pushing, certainly, their priority deadlines for grants,” said Rachel Burns, senior policy analyst for the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. “State agencies are doing the same thing. We don’t know yet whether institutions are going to be able to change their decision deadlines.”

For James, pressure is mounting. Most of the schools she has applied to require a deposit by May 1.

“My biggest worry, I would say, is that there’s not enough time,” said her mother, Lori James, who added that her daughter would have already chosen her college if not for the FAFSA processing delay.

However, as it is, students like James can only hope the FAFSA fumble doesn’t delay their college dreams.

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