Why Was Completing the FAFSA so Complicated for the Class of 2024?


This past December, the Department of Education soft-launched a new version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or the “better FAFSA” as federal officials called it prior to launch), but the initial rollout was filled with technical issues and formula errors. Those issues persisted into the spring, turning an application meant to streamline and simplify the federal student aid process into a full-on political debate

More than frustrating applicants, the glitchy FAFSA and mismanaged rollout created significant delays for universities and state officials that use the FAFSA to determine their aid distributions. West Virginia went so far as to declare a state of emergency that allowed its high school students to qualify for its biggest financial aid program without completing the FAFSA. As of mid-June, the number of incoming college students who have submitted the FAFSA is 12.4% lower than the completion rate at this time last year, and that percentage is higher in low-income schools. 


What Caused These FAFSA Complications?

The FAFSA overhaul began in late December 2020 under the FAFSA Simplification ACT, which reduced the number of questions asked on the application and changed the underlying formula for aid eligibility. Since then, presidential administrations and congresses changed—both bringing their own pet projects and initiatives to Washington D.C. These political realignments combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, debates over student debt forgiveness, and an initiative to update student loan servicing may have strained an overtaxed system—or pulled organizational attention away from a time-intensive overhaul. 

More than which branch of government is responsible, what matters most is how the challenge of completing the new FAFSA has impacted students. 


How Have FAFSA Difficulties Impacted Students?

Before the rollout of the new FAFSA, the number of high school students applying to college increased by 6% over the last year, which was welcome news for universities after years of struggling to return to pre-pandemic enrollment levels. However, being unable to access financial aid will very likely have a negative impact on the number of students that ultimately enroll, which could be especially true for public universities that have historically served students from families with lower incomes. It may also increase the amount of private student loans this year’s class will need to take out to pay for college—and the amount of debt they will graduate with.

The deadline for submitting the FAFSA for the 2024–2025 school year is nearly here (it’s June 30th), but it will still be incredibly important to provide your student (and yourself) ample time to correctly fill out the new FAFSA if your student will need financial aid and scholarships to attend college for 2025–2026. (And, if your student is attending college this fall and you haven’t submitted your FAFSA, contact the school’s financial aid office to discuss your options immediately!) 

Students who don’t qualify for need-based financial assistance will also have their college experience altered by the challenges of the new FAFSA. The makeup of their college classes will likely be less economically diverse—and diversity on campus has been repeatedly tied to positive educational outcomes in higher education


What Can Parents Do to Help with the New FAFSA?

Unfortunately, there is exceptionally little the average parent can do to change the precarious state of the new FAFSA. Instead, as The Enrichery tells our students, we should focus on what is within our realm of control. Small steps like starting on the FAFSA early, having all necessary documents ready, and checking for common mistakes while helping your student fill out the application can help mitigate the difficulty of the new FAFSA. And, if you find that you or your student could use additional help, you might consider contacting a certified college financial consultant who can guide you through scholarship applications and the FAFSA. 


At The Enrichery, we offer assistance with university-based scholarship applications and provide a parent scholarship workshop as a part of our college admissions workshop and 1-1 unlimited college admissions packages. Contact us today to lock in your student’s spot for our college admissions workshop or to set up 1-1 college admissions counseling!