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Delays, problems with federal student aid application leave applicants in limbo

Problems with federal student aid application have families stuck
Problems with federal student aid application have families stuck 03:57

CHICAGO (CBS) -- On Capitol Hill Wednesday, the U.S. House Higher Education Committee held hearings to examine the failed rollout of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid – or FAFSA.

Approved FAFSA applicants are eligible for federal student aid, grants, work-study funds, and loans.

The new FAFSA form is supposed to be shorter and simpler. But the rollout has been marred by delays and problems — disrupting college admissions deadlines for many students.

Without usable forms, universities can't offer aid to students. Thus, many families have been left in limbo without any idea how much financial aid they'll get.

It all adds stress when college applications are a difficult enough process. Students and families are being faced with trying to plan their future without having all the necessary information, and thus without a clear picture of how they might fund their own tuition.

"It's very stressful, because I already have acceptances from colleges — but I can't even say where I'm going to go, because I really need to hear back on the financial aid to see if it's a possibility for me," said Jocelyn Ortiz.

The FAFSA form that is supposed to be new and improved has been a nightmare for students like Ortiz. She is a senior at Jones College Prep, and her dream is to go to Northeastern University Boston to study law.

Ortiz thought she had done everything right. She has been through almost four years of high school — taking honors classes and Advanced Placement classes, dealing with the disruptions during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic, and participating in extracurriculars on top of it all.

But Ortiz is still waiting on her financial aid package.

"I was supposed to hear back — they said the beginning of March, they were supposed to have everything processed, and then mid-March, the financial award letters were supposed to go out," said Ortiz, "But I submitted my FAFSA January 2, and I still have not heard back — so I don't even know if my FAFSA has been processed."

Failed federal student aid application rollout leaves students frustrated 02:36

The average cost of college tuition, fees, and room and board has skyrocketed 155% between 1980 and 2023, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The average cost of college in the U.S. is $36,436 per year, including books, supplies, and other living expenses — according to the Education Data Initiative, an independent research group.

"I see people in my school. They're already committed to their schools. They're excited. They're happy. They're looking forward to the next like chapter in their lives," said Ortiz, "and that's what I feel I should be feeling. I should be able to be celebrating where I'm going."

The U.S. Department of Education has blamed glitches for the delay – now citing ongoing issues with inconsistent tax data sent to schools. For students like Ortiz, who would be the first in her family to go to college, the delay is pushing back her American dream.

"To me, being able to go to a university for close to nothing would be like an absolute blessing, and would show that the sacrifices my parents have made their entire lives were actually worth it," Ortiz said.

Ortiz is looking at a May 1 deadline to make the decision. Many other schools have extended their decision deadline to give students the chance to see their financial aid packages.

But Ortiz is not alone in not having even been notified that her application was received.

"I feel like all the work I'm putting in, I'm hoping pays off, in terms of — well, it's paid off in terms of acceptance," Ortiz said, "but I really hope it pays off in terms of FAFSA and financial aid."

Expert explains how scholarship applications can help amid FAFSA delays 01:10

Meanwhile, an expert said scholarships can help students pay for college while they wait for the results of their FAFSA to come in.

"With scholarships, you don't have to come from a low-income household. But you can, and you can come from a middle-America household — it can be valuable for students across the board," said Christina Lindley, vice president of revenue and partnerships at "There's over $100 million in scholarships that goes unclaimed each year, and $2 billion in students grants that go unclaimed."

Lindley suggested students start applying for scholarships as early as a few years before thinking about where they might go to college – because all of that money could add up, and does not need to be paid back.

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