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FAFSA applicants face ‘minor issues’ during soft launch of new aid process

Courtesy - Emily Ranquist/Pexels
Courtesy - Emily Ranquist/Pexels

The U.S. Department of Education said the rollout of its much-anticipated overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, has run into some problems. 

“Leading up to and during the soft launch, we uncovered some minor issues affecting users at various points in the application process, which is to be expected with the launch of a major new website,” the department said in  a statement Sunday. “We are addressing these issues concurrently and will continue to monitor for additional issues users may encounter while we conduct the soft launch.”

This story was reported and written by our media partner The Virginia Mercury

During the past three years, the department has been redesigning the form to make it less complex, with the goal of granting more students access to financial aid. 

Schools and college applicants in Virginia and nationwide have been waiting for the launch of the new form, which ultimately began Dec. 31 with a “soft launch” intended to identify potential performance issues. As part of the process, the department is periodically pausing the site to make improvements, limiting access to applicants. 

The Department of Education advised students and families that they will have “ample time” to complete their forms, as institutions are not expected to receive student information for processing aid packages until later this month. Students do not need to rush to complete their form during the soft launch period, the agency said. 

Virginia officials have previously expressed concern that any delays in the FAFSA rollout would particularly impact first-generation and low-income students, as well as financial aid offices charged with processing applications and creating aid packages. 

“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,” said Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), which represents  financial aid professionals at approximately 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. “What we hope students understand is that even if they fill out the FAFSA today, we still don’t have an exact date of when schools will receive FAFSA applicant data, so financial aid administrators can begin building and communicating financial aid packages.”

Bob Spieldenner, a spokesman for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the coordinating body for the state’s colleges and universities, said the council is monitoring the rollout of the new form and is urging applicants to be patient but persistent in completing it.

“While the new FAFSA carries a promise of an improved process, the delayed release and implementation timeline compound the difficulty in achieving a successful start,” SCHEV said in a statement. “The soft launch makes a marketing campaign even more challenging.”