FAFSA errors leave college dreams in limbo

New changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid could leave many students unable to pay for college.

(Vivienne Tran / Daily Trojan)

Unprecedented changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid are leaving students across the nation unable to complete the application because of a FAFSA error not allowing undocumented parents to sign the application. 

Nearly 5.5 million United States citizens under the age of 18 live with at least one undocumented household member, and nearly 80% of all children of undocumented immigrants are born in the U.S.. 

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For many, the FAFSA is critical to their ability to pay for school. However, changes to the application aiming to make the application process faster, easier and more accessible have had the opposite effect; students of undocumented parents have undoubtedly been especially impacted by the changes. 

Before the 2023 FAFSA changes, children with undocumented parents could not create their own FSA ID — a password and username used to fill the application online; therefore, they had to mail the application instead. They were also able to enter zeroes in the Social Security number portion. However, in December 2020, Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act to “help streamline the process and make it easier” for applicants. 

The new 2023 form that had been worked on since 2020 aimed to fix the issue and allow undocumented parents to create their accounts, but students still could not complete the FAFSA because of a website error. 

For parents with no Social Security number, the error reads: “unauthorized to act on behalf of the student since they already have a 24-25 FAFSA form.” It additionally states, “A student may start the application, but the parent will not be able to contribute the parent information.” There is currently no workaround, and students cannot submit the FAFSA until the glitch is fixed, which was expected in the first half of March. 

Once the glitch is resolved, undocumented parents can request an FSA ID, which will allow them to complete the FAFSA. With deadlines approaching for institutions and no sufficient fix, students could lose out on grants that could help fund their college education — leaving many students helpless and with no workaround. However, private colleges will receive some kind of financial aid documentation due to the CSS Profile requirement for applicants, but public colleges will not until the FAFSA is submitted. 

With this, thousands of students have yet to submit their financial aid applications and find themselves at the peak of college acceptance season. While there is excitement in a student receiving college acceptances, children of undocumented parents fear they won’t be able to attend college because of their inability to access or submit the FAFSA.  

Need-based aid is what allows low-income students to pursue higher education. As time passes, this error discourages children of undocumented immigrants from filling out the FAFSA, which could ultimately impact their decision to attend college. The Department of Education announced that because of the delayed problems with the FAFSA, it will not send student aid information to colleges before the first half of March. 

This means that students may only receive financial aid by April, as opposed to early March, when the application was due. This, ultimately, would leave them only days or weeks to decide where they will go to college. Many students also fear they will not know their financial aid packages for schools and will have to decide without knowing their aid package. 

Children of undocumented immigrants have found themselves waking up as early as 5 a.m., depending on the time zone calling the FAFSA hotline to resolve this matter. But many of these calls do not guide families through completing the application. Therefore, this calls for colleges to make accommodations as students cannot submit, and it is out of their control. 

Ironically, Federal Student Aid has yet to resolve this issue that has been going on since December 2023, when the application initially opened, despite its claims of making the application more accessible for eligible students. 

This process is detrimental and impacts students in need. As Federal Student Aid tends to serve early FAFSA applicants earlier, by the time these students turn in their applications, they might not receive all the aid they need. There is a sense of exclusion in this error — a direct attack on children of undocumented parents.

These students need the support they are entitled to from the government. For students who still need assistance, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles has offered its resources to assist students whose parents do not have a Social Security number. 

For many children of immigrants, education is the path to social mobility, and the FAFSA is playing with people’s lives. The undocumented community has constantly had many worries, and Federal Student Aid’s lack of response and action in supporting mixed-status applicants is unacceptable. 

Heydy Vasquez is a sophomore writing about the lack of support for undocumented students on college campuses. Her column, “UndocuTales,” runs every other Wednesday.

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