A glitch in the FAFSA site prevents students with undocumented parents from applying for college aid
Despite efforts to simplify the Federal Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA), students with undocumented parents are dealing with a frustrating website glitch that’s threatening their access to financial aid.
A new online form launched at the end of last year — the result of the FAFSA Simplification Act that Congress passed in December 2020. The change was meant to help streamline the process and make it easier for students to apply for federal aid.
In previous years, undocumented parents could not create their own Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID — a password and username combination used to fill out the application online. They were also not able to electronically sign the form and had to mail it instead.
The new form is supposed to allow parents without a Social Security number to create their own account. But some students with undocumented parents are finding themselves unable to complete the FAFSA due to a website error.
That includes Jocelyn Salgado, a junior at the University of Illinois. She said she started filling out the application a week after it launched. But when it was time for her mom to create an FSA ID, the website would not allow her to make an account without a Social Security number — which she does not have.
The U.S. Department of Education has been aware of this ongoing issue since the beginning of January, according to the 2024-25 FAFSA issue alerts center website.
“If a parent with no Social Security number (SSN) starts the 2024-25 FAFSA form for a student, the parent will receive an… incorrect error message [that] states that the user is ‘unauthorized to act on behalf of the student since they already have a 24-25 FAFSA form’ even if the student has not started an application,” the website states. “A parent with no SSN also is not able to contribute to the form, even if the student starts the application and invites the parent to contribute.
There is currently no workaround for a parent without a Social Security number.
“A student may start the application, but the parent will not be able to contribute the parent information,” the website states.
This means students like Salgado are left anxiously waiting, hoping the issue will be resolved so they can complete their applications by the June 30 deadline.
Salgado said she is trying to be patient, but she worries this delay might impact her financial aid award.
“I do rely on my financial aid to be able to attend this university and to be able to live on campus especially,” Salgado said. “So, if my financial aid were to be lowered I would need to make lots of cuts.”
If her financial aid award changes, Salgado said she might have to work more hours and spend less time with her extracurricular activities.
Salgado is not the only student in the Champaign-Urbana area dealing with this problem.
Jazmine Thompson, the director of advising and mentoring at the Office of Minority Student Affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, recently organized a FAFSA workshop aimed at addressing students’ concerns
“Students had questions about it — they were unsure — and I did not hear about anyone else doing any FAFSA workshops,” Thompson said.
About 60 students attended the workshop in late January. Thompson said most of the questions at the event came from students with undocumented family members, while a few students also had other concerns about glitches on the website.
“There was a lot of anxiety for the students because certain things were not working and we were able to help as best as we could,” Thompson said.
Thompson said she is still getting questions from students with parents who do not have Social Security numbers; she refers them to UIUC’s financial aid office.
She is planning to host another FAFSA workshop on campus soon.
The financial aid department at Parkland College in Champaign also hosted a FAFSA completion event in late January.
Robert Bielmeier, associate director of the Office of Financial Aid and Veteran Services, said about 30 students attended the event.
He said that a couple of students were confused about the new contributor format that allows them to invite their parents to fill out a portion of the FAFSA. Overall, he said students did not run into many issues.
Bielmeier said he hopes students who are filling out the FAFSA this year will not be discouraged by the new format.
“The thought behind all of these changes is to make things more simple for students. So it is going to be better in the long run. I am optimistic about that,” he said. “Right now we just have some hurdles to get over.”