Recent FAFSA form leaves students worried and waiting

Johana-Duarte-Sunlit
In the last five years from 2017 to 2023 an estimated 3,700 students transferred directly out of SAC to CSUF. Johana Duarte hopes to be one of them this Fall 2024. Photo by KaliRaahVisuals / el Don

Community social services major Johana Duarte is planning on transferring to Cal State Fullerton in the fall. But she still doesn’t know how she’s going to pay for it. 

Duarte went to a workshop held by the Financial Aid Office in January to submit her Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the only form students can use to find out if they’re eligible to receive federal grants, scholarships, work-study funds, and loans. 

When Duarte got to the part where she had to create an account for her mother to enter her financial information, the application wouldn’t allow it. Her mother is undocumented and doesn’t have a social security number, which triggered a known glitch in the updated 2024-2025 FAFSA form.

“It’s been over three months,” Duarte said. “They fix one thing and then there’s another error. They said it was going to be easier and faster but this is way harder.”

Duarte is one of the millions of students left waiting for a fix that will let them submit the application and access their financial aid. Typically, about 17 million students submit a FAFSA each year. This year, only 5.5 million have submitted. 

In Santa Ana, where about 20% of households are mixed status, students are disproportionately impacted by the recent updates. Students are nervous the government won’t fix the application in time for the updated April 2 deadline and they’ll have to pay the rising cost of tuition out of pocket. 

In previous years, students whose parents do not have a Social Security number, would print the signature page and mail it in to the Department of Education. The 2024-25 FAFSA now requires each of the students’ parents or contributors to create a StudentAid.gov account. If a contributor doesn’t have a Social Security number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, the form says leave that question blank and move forward. 

Students are often forced to work full-time minimum wage jobs, pay for their own education and the majority of personal living expenses but are still considered “dependent” according to FAFSA for tax purposes. Infographic Courtesy of Studentaid.gov

 

However, the identity of student contributors has to be verified before they can be invited to contribute to the student’s FAFSA form. Duarte was given a message that her mom had to call to confirm her identity.

“My mom was calling every day for over three weeks on two-hour holds while at work just to be disconnected,” said Duarte. “It almost feels like they are doing this intentionally so we don’t get any money.”

Finally, Duarte’s mom got through and created an account, but when Duarte tried to invite her mom’s account to her form, it said the information didn’t match. 

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“I thought I was finally in the clear now that she’s been verified, but now I can’t invite her into my application because the system is saying her information is different when it’s the exact same information,” Duarte said.  

Financial Aid administrator Brian Nguyen acknowledged that many SAC students are stuck because of this issue. His office has held more FAFSA workshops since the one Duarte attended in January, but the staff has struggled to help students completely submit the form. 

“The directive as of right now is for the students to come here to see what we can do to help,” said Nguyen. “But as far as what the Department of Education has officially released, they haven’t updated that part of the application yet.”

According to Nguyen’s internal briefing, the Department of Education released an official statement only available to college administrators. They are aware of the situation at hand, and they are working on it. The Department of Education estimates any feedback or status changes in troubleshooting to be announced in mid to late March.

The Department of Education isn’t planning on providing any kind of feedback until closer to maybe mid to late March, and that’s just their estimation.

Other students with undocumented parents have opted to avoid the frustration and just wait to complete the new 2024-25 FAFSA until the bugs are fixed.

“I haven’t even started the application because of all the errors on the website so I’m waiting until they fix all that before I start it,” said Leslie Santana, an undecided major.

Students are left to continue waiting and worrying about paying out of pocket tuition to finish their educational plans, without knowing their financial award status and if their University will honor the late FAFSA form submission. 

This week, the Department of Education announced they processed the first batch of student records to a few dozen colleges and universities.

“Don’t worry about the deadlines. All the schools are aware of it,” said Nguyen. “The government is aware of it and they’re gonna work with everybody because they want to give out the money, they want to do it.”

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