Why the FAFSA is so hard this year, and where to get help in Wichita

An updated financial aid form has led to website glitches and widespread confusion. High schools, colleges and nonprofits are here to help.

by Maria Benevento


  • A new version of the FAFSA was supposed to be easier, but many students have seen website glitches that made it hard or impossible to complete. 
  • Some of the biggest challenges have been for students whose parents don’t have Social Security numbers. 
  • Counselors urge students not to give up and say help filling out the FAFSA is available from high schools, universities and nonprofits. 

Most years, May 1 marks “decision day” when many colleges ask students to let them know whether they’ll be attending. 

But this year, problems with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, mean many students won’t know whether they can afford college, much less enroll. 

An updated version of the FAFSA, shorter and intended to be easier than previous editions, was released months later than usual. Then website malfunctions hindered families trying to complete the application. 

That red tape tangle is keeping some students from submitting the form and is leaving others waiting for results.  

“We anticipate that we’re going to see a drop in how many students are actually attending college because of this,” said Joyce Nguyen Hernandez of Kansas City Public Schools. 

The National College Attainment Network reports that FAFSA completion rates sit 32% below last year in Missouri and more than 36% lower in Kansas. They’ve dropped most sharply in urban districts, in areas where incomes are lower and places with more students of color. 

Counselors and others who work with students say the problems hit particularly hard with  first-generation college students, families with language barriers and with parents whose immigration status is different from the student’s.

“You can see it across the board, how it affects different schools and different locations,” said Rachel Schmeidler of Wichita North High School. “A lot of it has to do with demographics, unfortunately.”

If you’re a student or family member struggling with the FAFSA, experts say there’s still hope as issues with the form are fixed or workarounds are discovered. High school counselors, colleges and nonprofits can share the latest hacks. 

“There are people here to help you,” said Camry Ivory of the Missouri College and Career Attainment Network (MOCAN). “Advocate for yourself. Contact everybody you can. If you are stuck, keep trying. Don’t give up.”

Here’s what you need to know about this year’s FAFSA and how to tackle any issues. 

To gather this advice, we spoke with: 

  • Cammie Kennedy, Wichita East High School’s college and career counselor.
  • Rachel Schmeidler, college and career counselor at Wichita North High School.
  • Joyce Nguyen Hernandez, Kansas City Public Schools manager of college access and success.
  • Victor Aguilar, Kansas City Public Schools director of equity, inclusion and innovation. 
  • Camry Ivory, FAFSA completion consultant at the Missouri College and Career Attainment Network.

Jump to a question: 

Remind me what the FAFSA is

The FAFSA is a form that high school seniors and college students fill out each year to determine whether they’re eligible for federal financial aid such as grants, loans and work study. 

Other scholarship programs often use the FAFSA as well if they take financial need into account. That includes programs sponsored by states, universities and colleges. 

Why is the 2024 FAFSA so hard?

The U.S. Department of Education introduced a simplified version of the FAFSA in late 2023, but its rollout has been problematic. 

Since the FAFSA opened — months later than usual — students have seen website glitches, changes to the application and processing delays. 

Until recently, families weren’t able to submit corrections when they made a mistake or decided to send their results to more schools.

Taken together, the problems have kept many students in the dark about how much money they’ll receive for school. 

Where can I find help if I run into FAFSA trouble? 

If you’re a high school student, one place to start is with your counselor, who can help you directly or refer you to other resources. 

If you’ve been admitted to college, or you know where you’re interested in attending, it’s also a good idea to stay in touch with that school’s financial aid office. 

Colleges want students to be able to enroll. Tuition money will eventually end up in their hands, after all. So they’re motivated to help with FAFSA problems. 

That can include making sure students can complete the FAFSA — some are hosting FAFSA help events — and, in some cases, changing deadlines. 

Wichita FAFSA help and events

  • WSU Tech FAFSA help events, April 22, 23, 25, 29 and 30 and May 2 from 9-11 a.m., 1-3 p.m. and 3-5 p.m. at various locations. Register here
  • Wichita State University has extended its priority date for financial aid to May 1. Check here for FAFSA events. 
  • Wichita Public Schools have web pages with information about the FAFSA and college and career counselors can assist you with problems. 

Federal Student Aid has lists of FAFSA tips

You can call Federal Student Aid at 800-433-3243 or try the chat bot, which some families have found faster than the phone line. 

Who’s having the most trouble with the 2024 FAFSA? 

One of the biggest challenges has been submitting information for parents without Social Security numbers. 

While students generally need a Social Security number to complete the FAFSA, their parents aren’t supposed to need one to turn in required financial information. 

At first, those family members weren’t able to enter their information at all. While that issue has improved, some families are still finding the process challenging. 

Since the new form puts more responsibility on parents to provide information through a separate login, it can also pose challenges if those parents aren’t willing or able to cooperate. 

First-generation college students may also need extra support navigating the FAFSA because their families have less experience with the application process. Language barriers can create another layer of difficulty.

Is there any good news about the 2024 FAFSA? 

Yes. The revised FAFSA is fewer than 40 questions long, down from more than 100. 

It also directly retrieves tax information, meaning no one has to worry about whether they’re entering those numbers in the right location. 

When all goes smoothly, it can take 15 minutes or less for each person to complete their portion of the form. 

The Department of Education continues to work on fixing issues. 

“This has been, hopefully, the worst FAFSA season of our lives,” Ivory said. “It only gets better from here.”

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon