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The FAFSA debacle is throwing a wrench in students' college plans


May 1 is a traditional decision day for many high school seniors to pick the college of their choice. But this year's trouble with the federal financial aid form, the FAFSA, has thrown that process into turmoil. NPR's Janet Woojeong Lee has been talking to one student in New York City who shares how the debacle has poked big holes in her future plans.

JANET WOOJEONG LEE, BYLINE: Vanessa Cordova Ramirez is in her final semester at Williamsburg Preparatory High School, and she's counting down the days to her big dream - going to college and studying to become a radiology technician.

VANESSA CORDOVA RAMIREZ: Well, I am interested in St. Joseph's University and Manhattan College. Those are my top two. Maybe St. John's - I'm thinking about it.

LEE: And her hard work keeping up her grades, extracurriculars while juggling two jobs has paid off. All of her top choice schools are private campuses in New York City, and all three of them have accepted her. Except, like tens of thousands of high school seniors around the country, Cordova Ramirez hasn't been able to put a deposit down or commit to any of these schools. That's because she has yet to find out how much financial aid she'll be getting.

CORDOVA RAMIREZ: Obviously, I'm talking with my parents, and they're like, you have to understand. We can help you, but only to some extent. And I'm working and trying to save, but yeah, even so, I know I'm not going to be able to afford that.

LEE: That as in paying for any of her three top choices. Cordova Ramirez has had to do a lot of math, and she's even reconsidering her college options.

CORDOVA RAMIREZ: And I'm like, OK, you know, maybe I could do a CUNY. But even with the CUNY, obviously, that's still its own separate bills of, like, 3,000 to $5,000, maybe or maybe even cheaper. I don't know.

LEE: For example, Saint Joseph's annual tuition is roughly $50,000. Of course, there would be financial aid and other help. She just doesn't know how much. Whereas one year at CUNY would cost just under $7,000 for in-state students like Cordova Ramirez. These are rough numbers, and there would be some scholarships and savings, but still Cordova Ramirez isn't sure she can make one of her dream schools work.

CORDOVA RAMIREZ: I know obviously all education is great, but that was my top choice. And, yeah, now I have to just see, like, my CUNY options, which obviously, I'm grateful for even being accepted into, but yeah.

LEE: In a different FAFSA year, Cordova Ramirez would already have offer letters from each school laying out the costs. Many schools have made adjustments this year and are trying to accommodate students. Still, for so many of them, that uncertainty is potentially a deal breaker.

ANGEL PEREZ: Many students are holding off on enrolling at institutions because they need to know exactly how much they will owe in order to enroll.

LEE: That's Angel Perez. He's the CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

PEREZ: The students that will be most impacted are the students for whom FAFSA was created - those students who need the most resources in order to go to college.

LEE: Perez says technical errors with FAFSA are still there. The online form remains glitchy, and there's a whole group of students from mixed status families that have experienced trouble filling out the form. Vanessa Cordova Ramirez was one of them. After many attempts, she finally did get through. But as of this week, she still doesn't have a clear financial aid picture.

CORDOVA RAMIREZ: I'm really just in an iffy position of, like, what am I going to do? Do I want to go to college? If I have to pay, I have to pay. I'm OK with that. But, yeah, I'm just - really just stressed out about this not working.

LEE: Janet Woojeong Lee, NPR News, Brooklyn.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: May 10, 2024 at 12:00 AM EDT
The radio version of this story mistakenly said that Saint Joseph's University's annual tuition is roughly $50,000. In fact, it's around $35,000.
Janet W. Lee
[Copyright 2024 NPR]