How Changes to Federal Student Aid Derailed College Decisions

Issues with the FAFSA application caused widespread delays to many seniors' final college decisions–especially those with immigrant families.

7 mins read

This story is syndicated from The Shield, the newspaper of McCallum High School in Austin, TX. The original version of the story ran here.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) made new changes to their form this year including moving their release date and replacing the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) with a Student Aid Index (SAI). The biggest change, however, is the date when universities receive FAFSA information. The universities anticipated receiving financial aid information by January, but FAFSA announced that they wouldn’t receive it until mid-March. These new changes aren’t helping the class of 2024; it only puts more stress on students and further delays their final college decisions.

Art credit: Nate Williams

On Jan. 31, the FAFSA organization announced that universities will now receive students’  financial information during the month of March. This is due to a $1.8 billion mistake that would have given lower-income families less financial aid than they are entitled to. This has been extremely frustrating because students won’t find out how much aid universities will give until April, leaving only one month to decide where to commit. This is not an issue for me because I only applied to four universities, but the time is limited for people who have more. However, some universities like Texas State and Southwestern have taken notice of all these delays and extended their commitment and scholarship offer deadlines. 

The biggest issue for me personally was the removal of the option of putting zeros in the social security number field. I was stuck for more than a month, and I began to feel worried I would never be able to turn my form in. My mom recently became a resident, so inviting her to my FAFSA was an easy task, but putting my dad’s information in became a nightmare. My mom was required to put his information:  his name, date of birth and SSN. My dad immigrated here, and he still has not received an SSN, so I could not put any number in the section. My mom tried moving ahead, but the form told us not to leave the section blank. My brother told me to put zeros in the blank, but that feature was removed, and there was no option to say he doesn’t have an SSN. When I called the FAFSA help line they said it was a “glitch.” I felt extremely discriminated against because of my parents and my background. There was a chance I may not receive the aid I am entitled to receive due to a “glitch.” I was unable to submit my FAFSA form, and I missed out on renewable scholarships that required proof of FAFSA completion. I come from a low-income family, so I need to apply to as many opportunities as I see, and this mishap made me very stressed. The issue was fixed towards the end of February when they added a button that said “My spouse does not have an SSN,” so I did end up meeting the March 1 deadline; however, there was nothing I could do for the scholarships I had already missed out on.

They may have fixed the issue for people like me who have at least one parent who is a resident or citizen, but for students who have two parents with no SSNs, an issue remains. When you create an FSA ID for your parent, it does have the option to say they have no SSN, but after the ID is created it says that they need to call the FAFSA number to “verify their identity.” Not only does this create an unnecessary step, but during the entire month of January when someone tried to call their line a bot would say “No one is available to take your call; call again at another time, goodbye.” If they are going to make you call, the least they could do is have the decency to have someone pick up and help through the issue. When someone did pick up, they made the parent fill out an attestation and validation of identity form that certifies that they are a parent with no SSN and put in their personal information. Next, parents and students have to wait an absurd amount of time to get this verification. Why should parents even have to do this to verify that they exist? Immigrant parents may not have an SSN, but there is no reason to verify that they have worked hard to give their kids the best they can.

Despite FAFSA’s attempt to change things around and to help people, it has only stressed the class of 2024 more since it gives us a limited amount of time to decide where to go. The new changes are discriminatory to us who have immigrant parents. What could help in the future, so issues like this don’t happen again, is to be open to hearing our points of view and what changes we’d like to see to the FAFSA form. Even though it sounds simple, it can help a lot because after all, we are filling out the form.

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