Students Report Issues Accessing, Filling Out FAFSA Form

The Simplified FAFSA remains unavailable for most current or incoming college students.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Updated on January 5, 2024
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  • The new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) launched Dec. 30.
  • That only constituted a soft launch, however, and the complete application is not yet available for most college students.
  • The FAFSA has already been delayed beyond its standard launch date.
  • Many worry a continued inability to complete the form will delay financial aid offers.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form remains out of reach for many current and future college students, despite a promised Dec. 30 launch date.

The Department of Education (ED) in mid-November said that it would release the Simplified FAFSA on Dec. 30, 2023. However, many students who logged into the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website on that date instead found the message, "The FAFSA form is available periodically while we monitor site performance and update the form to provide you with a better experience."

ED is now calling this a "soft launch" of the Simplified FAFSA, where the form will only be available for limited periods each day. The department will institute pauses to "monitor site performance and respond in real time to any potential issues impacting the applicant experience."

Federal Student Aid promised that the application will be open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on both Jan. 4 and Jan. 5.

The department has not, however, stated how long the soft launch will last.

Instead, it has advised applicants not to rush to complete the application. Additionally, those who complete the form during the soft launch period won't have to resubmit.

ED won't send applicant data to colleges and universities until "late January," according to the department, so students won't be penalized for not submitting their FAFSA soon after the launch.

That timeline may still prove problematic.

Advocates have sounded the alarm on previous FAFSA delays, stating that delays inhibit institutions' ability to send out financial aid offers. Those delays could in turn affect a student's decision on which college they want to attend since they may not have a complete picture of their possible financial aid packages.

The FAFSA typically launches on Oct. 1 each year, but ED claimed it needed more time to launch the new Simplified FAFSA.

"Even by soft-launch standards, this weekend's rollout was challenging and students, families, and financial aid administrators who have been waiting for this release for months are understandably frustrated," Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), said in a statement.

"We know [ED] is working to bring the FAFSA online 24/7, but until that happens, and until we know more details about when schools will begin receiving finalized applicant data, schools cannot provide realistic timelines about when students and families will receive financial aid offers."

Previous delays have already put institutions behind the chains.

According to data from the National College Attainment Network, approximately 1.3 million high school seniors had completed their FAFSA by Jan. 6, 2023. An ED spokesperson told BestColleges that as of midday Jan. 4, Federal Student Aid had collected 450,000 submissions.

The spokesperson added that the department does not have a set date for when it expects the soft launch period to end.

“The department plans to continue the soft launch of the 2024-25 FAFSA form until we resolve issues uncovered through real-world user experience during the application soft opening,” the spokesperson said. “Our goal is to make open windows longer, as we continue to conduct site maintenance and work diligently to resolve these issues.”

The soft launch may also negatively impact FAFSA completion drives across the country. Some states, high schools, and colleges have planned events to help students complete their FAFSA, but now they are unsure whether students will be able to access their forms at the specified time. A dozen states, including California and Texas, require high schoolers to complete their FAFSA.