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Students With Undocumented Parents Have Hit a FAFSA Road Block. Here Are 3 Options

The new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for 2024-25—touted by the U.S. Department of Education as the “Better FAFSA”—was supposed to streamline the user experience and channel more aid to a broader pool of applicants.

So far, it’s been riddled with delays and glitches that continue to frustrate countless college-bound students from every demographic. But the experience has been particularly challenging for a subset of college applicants whose access to college in the upcoming year most depends on a completed FAFSA.

These frustrations are amplified for FAFSA applicants considered “mixed status”—meaning they are dependents who have at least one “contributor” (a biological or adoptive parent or parent’s spouse or the student’s spouse) without a Social Security number. These students either have been unable to complete the FAFSA application in its entirety because the online form currently doesn’t allow contributors without Social Security numbers an avenue to do so (students and contributors must fill out separate portions of the form) or they’ve filled out pen-and-paper applications and haven’t received a confirmation from the Education Department as they would from successfully submitting electronic submissions.

The Education Department, acknowledging the problems with both of these scenarios, has promised resolutions within the first half of March. “At that time, students will be able to submit a fully completed FAFSA that includes contributor information,” the Education Department announced in a press release in late February.

That sounds like good news. But it’s hard to rely on this most recent announcement, given the 2024-25 FAFSA rollout’s other missed deadlines—including the three-month delay of its initial launch as well as postponements of the date for the Department of Education’s release of completed applications to higher education institutions, currently expected by March 15.

That’s right around the corner, but time is of the essence. Some state universities’ financial aid programs operate on a first-come, first-served basis. And most college students (84 percent) rely on financial aid to help pay for college. This percentage is even higher for students of color: 88 percent of Black students, 87 percent of Native students, and 82 percent of Latino students. And an estimated 25 percent of Latino children living in the United States have an unauthorized immigrant parent, according to the Hispanic Research Center.

FAFSA applicants in this “mixed status” situation have a few options right now for filling out the form. Karen McCarthy, vice president of public policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, or NSFAA, explained each, as well as their pros and cons.

Current options for mixed-status FAFSA applicants

Option 1: Wait for the DOE to provide a solution

Pros: From a user perspective, it’s probably the easiest path forward, especially if the department meets its self-imposed March 15 deadline of resolving the problem that has prevented mixed-status applicants from completing the FAFSA online.

Cons: This may not be feasible if an applicant faces application-related deadlines from colleges, state grant programs, or private scholarship providers that precede mid-March.

“I have been encouraging families who can’t complete the FAFSA to reach out to whoever that entity is and let them know about their trouble,” McCarthy said.

Option 2: The ‘Workaround’
Because of the FAFSA glitch that is impeding mixed-status applicants, the Education Department in February announced a workaround that will allow these applicants to fill out the online FAFSA, leaving the space for contributors’ Social Security numbers blank and manually entering their income and tax information.

Pros: Submitting the application electronically will generate an email confirming that the department has received it. This email can be used as proof of timely filing of the FAFSA, and can be shared with colleges and universities, private institutions that allot financial aid for higher education, and state aid programs.

Cons: The workaround does not permit FAFSA applicants to submit a completed application; therefore, the Education Department will not be able to process it. So whenever the department fixes the glitch to the current form, applicants will need contributors to complete their portion of the form and resubmit it.

Option 3: Complete a paper version of the FAFSA

There is a paper FAFSA form available that will allow applicants with at least one contributor lacking a Social Security number to complete it manually.

Pros: The applicant and contributors can fill out the form at the same time, unlike with the current electronic option.

Cons: The paper form is several pages long, making it more complicated than the streamlined online form.

In addition, completing the paper form will not yield an email confirmation from the department, which may be necessary for institutions with FAFSA completion deadlines.

The Education Department will process paper FAFSA forms after online FAFSAs, putting paper applicants at a disadvantage for receiving financial aid from institutions that make the aid available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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