Watch CBS News

Issues with FAFSA financial aid applications plague Bay Area high school students

Changes to financial aid application causing issues for some Bay Area high school students
Changes to financial aid application causing issues for some Bay Area high school students 04:16

It's a big week for Bay Area high school students deciding where to go to college, many without knowing how much financial aid they will get because they are among the millions nationwide hampered by issues with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website.

Marlay'ja Hackett is a senior at Fremont High School in Oakland with her sights set on entering college in just a few months, but she has dealt with her share of FAFSA frustrations.

"There was a long time where I would try to log in and they would just reboot the whole system and log me right back out," Hackett said. "That would happen consistently. We would have to wait days, and that would turn into weeks and months. It was just hard to even start the application."

A revamped FAFSA website — which was supposed to simplify the process —rolled out to students in January, months behind schedule, and still not fully ready.

"The U.S. Department of Education was building an airplane while flying it to its destination and crashing it several times along the way," said financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz.

Kantrowitz said system glitches affected four out of every 10 students who applied for financial aid and could be why there are 2.6 million fewer FAFSA applications this year so far than last.

"The FAFSA fiasco is not just affecting students and their families. It's also affecting colleges," Kantrowitz said. "Some colleges are going to see a significant decline in enrollment, enough that it might force some of them to close permanently."

FAFSA problems are now pushing into college decision day on May 1, which most colleges set as the deadline for accepted students to commit.

"It's crunch time because students should have been able to have their award letters at this time, to choose where they are going to go based on how much money they are going to get, take out loans, put the rubber to the road for scholarships," said Jaliza Collins, a counselor at Fremont High School.

For Hackett, her plans are still up in the air. She was accepted to her first choice, Southern University A&M in Baton Rouge. But she still doesn't know if she can afford to attend.

"Some of those schools that I applied for, I got to see them and all they have to offer.  And it was exciting, but at the same time, I don't know if I will be able to go because I don't know what my financial aid package looks like," she said. "You have all these dreams and aspirations and you've been working hard for it but it might not happen, not because of something you did, but because you don't have your financial aid packages yet."

For many students, picking back-up schools and community colleges is perhaps more important this year than ever.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.