The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an essential tool for students seeking financial aid for college. However, the launch of the online FAFSA form has been fraught with delays and issues. Despite the requirement for it to be available before January 1, 2024, the soft launch of the new FAFSA has been riddled with problems, making it nearly impossible for students to submit their applications on time.

According to higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz, it is highly unlikely that any of the millions of students applying for the 2024-25 academic year have successfully submitted their FAFSA forms. The U.S. Department of Education admitted that there have been minor issues during the soft launch and assured that they are working to resolve them. Unfortunately, these technical difficulties have resulted in a missed deadline imposed by Congress.

In light of the challenges faced by students, financial aid consultant Kalman Chany advises waiting instead of panicking. Recognizing that the system will eventually be available for everyone, Chany suggests holding off until the issues are resolved. It may be frustrating for students and families who are eager to submit their forms, but rushing the process during the soft launch won’t yield any benefits.

Even if students manage to submit their FAFSA forms early this year, the information won’t be sent to schools until late January. This delay in processing could potentially disrupt the usual timeline for financial aid award offers. Kantrowitz warns that if colleges fail to deliver aid offers by late March or early April, it could result in a complete disaster for families. Students who applied early action or early decision are already experiencing delays and uncertainty surrounding their award offers.

Aside from the timing issues, the new FAFSA also brings changes to eligibility and calculation methods. The simplified form now utilizes a calculation known as the “Student Aid Index” to estimate a family’s affordability. While this may grant more low- and moderate-income students access to federal grants, it may also reduce eligibility for wealthier families. Additionally, the FASFA simplification has eliminated the “sibling discount,” which provided a break for families with multiple children in college simultaneously.

One concerning aspect of the new FAFSA is its reliance on outdated consumer price index figures from 2020. This failure to account for the recent run-up in inflation could result in students receiving less financial aid than they deserve. Kantrowitz highlights the significant financial burden this can place on families, with thousands of additional dollars required to cover college costs. Families with adjusted available income over $35,000 will be affected, particularly middle- and higher-income students.

The online FAFSA form has encountered numerous challenges since its much-anticipated launch. The technical difficulties and missed deadlines have caused frustration and uncertainty for students and families alike. While waiting for the issues to be resolved may be difficult, it is the most practical course of action. However, even when the system becomes fully accessible, changes to eligibility and calculation methods may affect the financial aid landscape. The failure to consider inflationary adjustments could further exacerbate the financial burden on families. As students navigate the process of applying for financial aid, patience and careful consideration are essential in ensuring a successful college funding strategy.

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