upper waypoint

If You're a Mixed-Status Student Still Struggling With FAFSA, You Have Options

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

A young woman with dark brown hair stares intently at her computer screen.
A glitch blocking mixed-status families has caused stress for many, but there are steps that can be taken in the meantime when it comes to the FAFSA application. (Carol Yepes/Getty Images)

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA this year has been complicated, to say the least. Especially if your family is considered “mixed status” — when a student has a Social Security number but one parent does not, due to their immigration status.

When the Department of Education began its process of revamping FAFSA several years ago, one of the stated goals was to make the application more easily accessible for mixed-status families. Federal officials told KQED last year that the updated FAFSA would allow undocumented parents to complete the form without needing a Social Security number.

But that was not the case. For months, students from mixed-status families were blocked from completing the 2024–25 FAFSA form. Without a parent’s Social Security number, the form showed error messages and blocked students from submitting it. “I repeat and repeat the same thing, and it sends me back with the same error message,” Josue Hernández, high school senior in San Francisco, told KQED in February. “I’ve been trying every day for the past month, nonstop. And it still doesn’t work.”

Sponsored

And finally, on March 12, after months of delays and countless calls from students and counselors, the Department of Education announced it had successfully resolved the glitches that prevented students from mixed-status families from completing their FAFSA form. Students with “contributors without an SSN [Social Security Number] can now successfully submit the form,” said the statement.

Despite the glitch being fixed, mixed-status families lost months of time to complete FAFSA. And on their end, colleges also had less time to calculate students’ financial aid packages. The aftermath of the FAFSA glitches has left many mixed-status families in complicated and confusing situations,  but colleges and California state officials are taking action to give students more time to seek out financial aid and make a decision about college.

Keep reading to learn what advice for mixed-status families KQED heard from college access advisors and financial aid offices.

Keep track of deadlines — all the deadlines

If you applied to colleges in California, you need to complete the FAFSA to qualify for the Cal Grant, a state financial aid program. The Cal Grant can help with tuition for schools in the UC and CSU system, along with many private universities in California.

Good news: You now have till May 2, 2024 to submit the 2024–25 FAFSA form and be eligible for California state financial aid, including the CalGrant. State officials extended the deadline for California students earlier this year in response to the multiple FAFSA glitches.

Keep in mind, however, May 2 is the new deadline just for state aid. Each school can decide its own deadline for when students need to submit FAFSA. Some colleges have pushed back their regular deadline to give students more time to complete the form, while others have granted case-by-case extensions.

At this point, make sure to have an up-to-date list of the FAFSA deadline for every school you’ve completed an application for. If one of these deadlines is coming up soon — or has already passed — contact the college’s financial aid office if you haven’t done so already. Even if you haven’t spoken to the financial aid team there before, the best thing you can do is make sure they know about your situation and that you need more time.

If the idea of reaching out makes you feel a little nervous, remember: Not reaching out could actually make things a lot more complicated later, as schools may not consider you for certain grants or scholarships. “It’s scary to ask questions and raise your hand,” said Jill Marinelli, program director at Mission Graduates, a San Francisco-based organization that helps many immigrant and lower-income students get to college. “But it’s part of growing into an adult, something we all do throughout life.”

Make sure you’ll receive the information you need to choose your college

Another set of deadlines to keep in mind later down the road — those related to Decision Day. Traditionally, most colleges ask accepted students to let them know by May 1 if they will enroll or not. However, the FAFSA delays have caused several schools to push back this deadline, too. All nine schools in the University of California system, for example, now require accepted students to make their decisions by May 15.

If you already submitted FAFSA, keep in mind that colleges may send a letter with a breakdown of the financial aid you qualify for much later than your peers. If you don’t know when they will send that information to you, ask them as soon as possible.

It’s critical you know when that information is coming in so you have it before deciding where to go to college.

Is the FAFSA form still glitching for you? There are back-up options 

If the FAFSA form is still blocking you from submitting your information because one of your parents doesn’t have a Social Security number, depending on your circumstances you may have two back-up options open to you as a California student:

Use the California Dream Act Application instead

On April 9, the state’s Student Aid Commission announced that the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) — which has usually been reserved only for California students who don’t have a Social Security number themselves — will be now available to students from mixed-status families who are still facing issues completing FAFSA.

This does not mean that mixed-status families seeking state aid are now required to complete CADAA on top of FAFSA. Rather, CADAA is a back-up option for students who — despite the recent fixes from the Department of Education — are still finding themselves blocked from completing FAFSA because one of their parents or guardians does not have a Social Security number.

“We encourage [first-time students of mixed-status families] to first attempt to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),” said California State University Chancellor Mildred García in a statement.

“If they are unable to do so, students should then complete the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) well before the May 2 deadline and later complete the FAFSA as soon as that becomes feasible,” García said.

Something else to keep in mind: Not all colleges take CADAA. If you still haven’t been able to complete FAFSA, contact the financial aid offices of the colleges you applied to and ask if they accept CADAA so you can share your family’s financial information.

Submit an incomplete FAFSA

The second back-up option: A Department of Education spokesperson shared with KQED in February that the agency has put in place a process that allows students from mixed-status families “to submit an incomplete FAFSA.”

What this means is that a student, using their own FSA ID, can manually enter their parent’s information, submit their FAFSA and later come back to submit a correction when the form has been fixed later this month.

Related Stories

So,  can any student from a mixed-status family use this second workaround? Unfortunately not. The Department of Education clarifies that this process “should only be used in the rare cases where students face an imminent deadline” that requires a FAFSA submission.

If this is your case, here’s how you can access the workaround: Contact the FSAIC at 1-800-433-3243, mention your family is mixed-status and that you need to submit an incomplete FAFSA — and be ready to share detailed information on the university or scholarship you need to file FAFSA for immediately. And if you have previously requested an extension from that specific university or scholarship and were denied, make sure to mention that as well.

Don’t be hesitant to call the Department of Education

Marinelli from Mission Graduates in San Francisco has worked with dozens of students and families through FAFSA troubles this year. One strategy, she says, that has brought results: Calling up the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC).

“The more people that call and say ‘this is an issue,’ the more likely they are to fix it,” she said. “It’s teaching students self-advocacy and reminding them that it’s worth it; they are worth it.”

However, Marinelli added that wait times when calling FSAIC are quite long — and students should set aside 40–60 minutes when calling. You can reach the FSAIC at 1-800-433-3243.

Applied to private schools? Don’t forget about the CSS Profile

If you applied to private universities, you most likely also had to complete the CSS Profile, a separate application operated by the College Board and used by private schools to determine how much from their own funds they give out to students in financial aid.

The CSS Profile is a much more complex form than the FAFSA and asks very specific questions about a family’s income and assets. There have not been any delays or glitches with the CSS Profile this year, which has helped private schools determine financial aid awards while the Department of Education fixes its FAFSA errors.

Stanford University is just one of those private schools that’s already ahead in calculating the aid prospective students could receive because of the CSS Profile.

“What we’re going to be doing is telling [families], ‘Look, this is what you qualify for, the total amount based on the Profile,’” said Karen Cooper, Stanford’s director of financial aid — who also confirmed that once the FAFSA data comes in, there may not be that much that changes. “There may be some Pell Grants that may come in to help with some of that total.”

Stanford is a unique case, however, because it has incredibly large financial resources that allow the school to provide very generous financial aid packages to accepted students from lower-income backgrounds. Not all private schools have the same resources — and some may actually depend more on federal and state grants to build a student’s financial aid package.

With that in mind, it’s best to contact each school you have applied to and ask them what information about you they are missing. If you’ve already submitted FAFSA, request a timeline for when you can expect a complete estimate of the financial aid package you qualify for. And if you need that information quickly — so you can make a decision on where to go to college — let colleges know that as well.

And remember, you aren’t alone in this

It’s OK to feel frustrated with the financial aid process at the best of times. And it’s definitely OK to feel frustrated with FAFSA in 2024.

The problems with this year’s FAFSA can take an emotional toll — especially on seniors who’ve given their best these past four years, stayed up late working on college applications and hustled to get everything in on time. But all the glitches and delays we’ve seen with FAFSA this admissions cycle have nothing to do with you as an individual, especially if you come from a mixed-status family.

This problem has become so serious that even Congress is taking action. Dozens of senators, led by Sens. Alex Padilla of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona urging his team to fix the error that’s preventing mixed-status families from completing the form. Earlier this week, Padilla told KQED that having a parent or guardian without a Social Security number “should not be an inhibitor to be able to access financial aid a student is otherwise eligible for.”

“It’s the first time that a lot of students are filling out a government form or paperwork like this,” said Marinelli of Mission Graduates. “Just doing it alone is overwhelming — and when it’s glitching and having problems, it just makes them want to give up and say, ‘what’s even the point?’”

But there is a point to all of this, she reminds you. Students who are working towards a college education, Marinelli says, belong in school. “They deserve this money. It’s there for them,” she said. “We have to keep reminding them to advocate for themselves and not give up.”

This story was originally published on March 14.

Tell us: What else do you need information about?

At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2024. We’ve published clear, practical explainers and guides about COVID, how to cope with intense winter weather and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger, and help us decide what to cover here on our site, and on KQED Public Radio, too.

Sponsored

Sponsored

lower waypoint
next waypoint
Paul Pelosi's Attacker Apologizes at Resentencing, but Prison Term Is UnchangedIs California’s Wine Industry in Trouble?US Universities Expand Climate Change Degree Offerings Amid Growing DemandCalifornia's Class of 2024 Lags in Student Aid Applications, Data ShowsAnimal Sedative Linked to US Overdoses Spurs Call for More SF Drug MonitoringThe Hidden Dangers of Sharing Adorable Photos of Your Child OnlineUAW Strike Expands To UCLA, UC Davis CampusEighth-Grader's Call to 911 About Teacher's Outburst Causes StirSal Khan on 'How AI Will Revolutionize Education (and Why That’s a Good Thing)'Following UC Santa Cruz's Lead, Academic Workers at UC Davis and UCLA Join Strike Over Response to Pro-Palestinian Protests