By Matthew Sotlar
Students returning to Youngstown State University at the beginning of the spring semester were unable to access the FAFSA form.
FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is offered by the Office of the Department of Education. The forms must be completed prior to starting classes at a university to determine whether or not students are eligible for federal aid.
Patrick Hoffman, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at YSU, said FAFSA underwent major changes in the past few months.
“[The 2024-2025 school year] has brought unprecedented changes with federal student aid, particularly the FAFSA application. Due to the passage of the FAFSA Simplification Act, there have been a number of changes with the FAFSA this year,” Hoffman said.
These changes included a delay in availability of the FAFSA form. Normally, the forms can be accessed after Oct. 1, however it was delayed until Dec. 31, 2023. Hoffman said these changes brought new challenges of their own.
“After the FAFSA became available on Dec. 31,  there was a period of time that the Department of Education referred to as the ‘soft launch period.’ During this time frame, primarily from Dec. 31,  to just recently, there was some challenges that the department had experienced with students completing the new, revised, streamlined FAFSA, which resulted in delays,” Hoffman said.
The DOE took the form offline during this ‘soft launch period,’ in order to perform maintenance. ‘Soft launch’ refers to the preliminary development stages of software, such as the updated FAFSA form.
With these unexpected delays, YSU’s Office of Financial Aid received questions and concerns from students unable to access the FAFSA forms.
“We’ve had a lot of students calling in, not necessarily complaining, just wondering what they could do. The majority of it was out of our control, and so we would just remind students during the soft launch period to continue to try and access the form, to complete it whenever they were able to,” Hoffman said.
The majority of concerns were from students unable to access the FAFSA form altogether. Most of these occurred during a time when the DOE had the form offline.
The Office of Financial Aid began receiving calls in October after the DOE announced that FAFSA would undergo changes.
“We had a number of students that were calling in after Oct. 1, when the FAFSA is usually available. We did send out a communication to students to make them aware of these changes, which helped with students know about the changes,” Hoffman said.
The number of phone calls increased after the start of the new year, but maintenance was completed Jan. 10.
Some of the changes to the FAFSA include the questionnaire portion. Formerly, the form featured over 100 questions for students to complete regarding their finances. This number was reduced to just over 50.
The Office of Financial Aid hosted Financial Aid Awareness Week from Jan. 22 through 26. Hoffman said students could attend to get help with FAFSA.
“If [students] are calling in with problems still, I would certainly encourage them to try again, but, I would also encourage them to attend one of our Financial Aid labs,” Hoffman said.