Failing the test: How a ‘better’ FAFSA is making financial aid much worse


February 27, 2024 - 2:19 PM

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is known by high school seniors, college students and their parents, as well as everyone else by its acronym, FAFSA.

As its name says, there is no fee to fill out the online FAFSA form to become eligible for college scholarship and aid money, but this year it is imposing a high cost on families and colleges. And the culprit is the United States Department of Education, which runs the program.

Colleges around the country, including both the SUNY and CUNY public systems here in New York, are in the blind about who can pay how much to attend next fall. SUNY pushed back their deadline for students to accept their admission offers from May 1 to at least May 15. CUNY is moving the date to June 1. So much for making things better.

We know FAFSA well, having filled it out since before COVID and are now suffering through its new and improved version as mandated by the Congress when lawmakers passed the FAFSA Simplification Act in December 2020.

The goal was to have fewer questions about assets and income. But instead the outcome has a huge mess as what had been a matter of days to have the forms processed has become much longer.

Without the info on how much students and their families can afford, colleges can’t make decisions on admission and aid packages for students they offer spots to. Matriculating and continuing students are likewise stuck, as financial aid is reviewed annually.

Before they “simplified” this year, each new FAFSA season began on Oct. 1 every year. We went back and looked at the FAFSA we completed last year and found these messages emailed from

Oct. 16, 2022: “We Received Your FAFSA Form. Take Steps to Prepare to Pay for School.” That came moments after the final steps on our end were completed, which included answering all the questions about farm income, bank accounts and investments and granting the IRS permission to send tax return data to the FAFSA.

Oct. 18, 2022: “Processed Successfully: Your Child’s 2023-24 FAFSA Form.” So two days was all it took for the feds to evaluate the info and prepare a report to send to the colleges for which aid was being sought. Some years it was a day or two longer, but always less than a week. And since the process opened on Oct. 1, getting needed material from FAFSA to colleges in a timely fashion was never an issue.

Under the new regime, FAFSA didn’t begin until Dec. 31, three months later than before. From what we read, trying to log on during New Year’s Eve was a nightmare, so we gave it some time before we attempted.

When we began the process Jan. 17, it was a bit balky, but it seemed to work and like usual, we had to complete it over a few sessions, having to gather all the required data. We finished the FAFSA on Jan. 28, but didn’t really notice if it was easier than before.

What we did notice was that there’s been nothing since. Logging in yesterday shows the Jan. 28 submission and now, nearly a month later, still not processed.

FAFSA did ask to “Please rate your overall satisfaction with” We gave it the lowest possible score.

— New York Daily News Editorial Board