How colleges can encourage higher FAFSA form submissions

Following late January's 57% drop in FAFSA form submissions, the College Attainment Network shows that only a little more than a quarter of high school seniors have filled it out through March 1.

As colleges and universities anxiously await the Department of Education to unveil its students’ financial aid information sometime this month, they should be mindful not to overlook their current students and applicants equally swept up in the confusion sweeping the sector by storm. Following late January’s 57% drop in FAFSA form submissions, the College Attainment Network shows that only a little more than a quarter of high school seniors have filled it out through March 1.

Not only could the headaches affect the number of students applying to one’s institution, but they can also hurt the retention of one’s first-generation students. More than a fifth of previously stopped-out first-generation online learners cite difficulty paying, gathering transcripts, and completing financial aid forms as their top inhibitors to sustaining their college education goals.

Here is some advice for counselors looking to quell students’ FAFSA qualms—and prevent any college hopefuls from falling astray.

Encouraging student morale

Northwood University and Delta College in Michigan have sponsored a local nonprofit to network high-school and adult learners filling out FAFSA. Students pursuing two- and four-year institutions and trade schools can gather for “FAFSA Nights,” organized by The Midland Area Career and College Access Network, to connect with, encourage and learn from each other, Midland Daily News reports. This work has helped change students’ minds about who can apply to college.

“I’ve noticed that there are students who at the beginning of the year didn’t think college was an option or didn’t want to consider college,” one of the organizers said. “I was even working with students in February who had a change of mind.”

More from UB: The 4 trends shaping the admissions process in 2024, per report

Cover these 4 principles to eliminate student friction points

Inceptia, a division of the National Student Loan Program, in collaboration with the personal finance experts at NerdWallet, released a special offshoot report of their “Great Advice for Grads” series to guide students through a particularly intimidating FAFSA year. Colleges can use these points to create more intentional, streamlined student support.

Students can’t correct submitted answers until mid-March

Students who submitted their FAFSA before realizing they’ve made an error must be assured that their answers aren’t final. While students in the past could easily log back in and make corrections, current applicants will have to wait until the Department processes the completed form, which should be coming out any day now, according to an official release.

Additionally, students who need to make a correction need not worry about losing their place in line in case the aid they applied for is on a first-come, first-serve basis. FAFSA will keep their place in line from when they first submitted.

Invitation process for contributors

Unlike in years past, students fill out their portions and then “invite” selected parents or guardians to fill out their individual portions.

“It’s a role-based process, where it was not before,” Jodi Vanden Berge, director of college planning and outreach at EducationQuest, a Nebraska-based college access nonprofit, said in a press release.

Students of undocumented parents 

Despite glitches, students of undocumented parents are welcome to apply to FAFSA. However, patience is required; the process required for these parents to request an FSA ID is not functioning yet. Until the issue is resolved, students of parents without social security numbers (SSN) who can’t fill out the form won’t be able to submit it for processing.

There are three options such students can pursue in the meantime, as provided by NerdWallet:

  1. Work around the issue: This option is best suited for students with pressing financial aid deadlines. Leave the SSN section blank and let parents fill out their portion of the FAFSA using 2022 federal tax return information. Submit the form without their signature, and save a copy of your confirmation email. This way, students have a paper trail to share with any schools with upcoming FAFSA deadlines. Once the Department processes the forms, parents can return to them and provide the necessary information.
  2. Submit a paper FAFSA: While a viable option, it is also more complicated.
  3. Submit once the glitch is fixed: Students without pressing deadlines should be encouraged to be patient and wait it out.
Clarify these confusing questions

While more streamlined, FAFSA will still ask students whether they received free lunch and their dependency status, two questions that have traditionally tripped students up.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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