Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

FAFSA fiasco leaves Michigan students, families in ‘anxiety inducing’ limbo

 Kathy DeKeyser holding up a t-shirt for college bound students
Whitmore Lake Middle and High School counselor Kathy DeKeyser is urging students to fill the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) even if they aren’t sure they want to attend college because they could change their minds between graduation and the fall. (Bridge photo: Isabel Lohman)
  • Flawed FAFSA rollout has left high school seniors in MIchigan and across the country waiting to learn what financial aid they’ll receive
  • Federal delays put Michigan families in a tough spot as they make
  • tentative college plans without a full financial picture
  • Many students have simply not filled out the form, with applications down significantly from last year

Nyieasha Moore-Foster plans to send her son to Rochester Christian University next year. But like parents across the country, the Auburn Hills mom is nervously awaiting a key data point: How much it will cost. 

It's hard to feel confident when "you don't have the bottom line," she told Bridge Michigan, describing mounting anxiety over the repeatedly delayed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

Moore-Foster has tried to calculate potential costs for her son, a high school senior, and hopes he won't have to take out a loan. But until they learn what aid he may qualify for, she just doesn't know.


“If this school is not going to work out, then we’re going to need to find another school to work out with our budget,” she said. “But we’re going to have to do that quickly, because school is approaching very fast.”

Moore-Foster is not alone. 


The federal government's botched rollout of a new FAFSA form, compounded by subsequent processing errors, have left millions of U.S. families playing a waiting game with major implications for their household budget. 

And in Michigan, the FAFSA fiasco carries an extra wrinkle of anxiety: The form is also the gateway for students to qualify for a state scholarship program that could also reduce the cost of college. 

With the federal government promising to correct recent errors, Michigan high school seniors face a time crunch to make a decision about college. 

Students generally commit to colleges or universities by May 1. But this year has been anything but typical. Several Michigan colleges have pushed back deadlines because of the FAFSA problems. 

In some cases, students are committing to a college or university without knowing how much aid they will receive, which could force tough financial decisions down the road. In other cases, students are simply not filling out the application, suggesting they may not attend college at all. 

students sitting at a table
High school seniors Ava Buckler, Thomas Hunt and Emily Schemer are all waiting on financial aid information from their preferred schools. They say in the meantime, they are just trying to apply to as many scholarships as possible. (Bridge photo: Isabel Lohman)

This wasn’t what Congress had in mind when lawmakers directed the federal government to make the FAFSA form simpler for students to complete, a process that led to errors and miscalculations.

The overhaul took longer than expected. The U.S. Department of Education opened the application season in late December instead of October — the first of many delays for students trying to submit information that helps schools assess if they’ll qualify for grants, loans, scholarships and loans.

“I think the intention is really good … but the execution of it has really been awful,” said Kristi Bonilla, a school counselor at Godwin Heights High School who helps students apply for aid and consider college options. 


Bridge Michigan spoke to more than a dozen students, parents, high school counselors and college advisors for this story. A common theme: They want certainty so they can move ahead with what will be a major life decision.

Making plans… and hoping

Earlier this week at Whitmore Lake Middle and High School, a class of seniors gathered in the library and split in two. Students who already completed FAFSA sat at tables to work on scholarship applications. Those who haven’t filled out the form were sent to desktop computers to work on the form.

Among the first group was Ava Buckler, who is waiting on her financial aid offer from Michigan State University, which she described as her dream school. 

“I’m just nervous and hoping” for as much aid as possible, and in the meantime, is trying to find scholarships to help cut costs for her family, she told Bridge. 

Michigan State officials say high school students will have their aid offers by May.

@bridge.michigan Here's what you need to know about the FAFSA fiasco. Comment your questions ‼️ For more information, check out the link in our bio. #fafsa #michigan #fafsa101 #financialaid #financialaidadvice #college #scholarship #scholarshiptips #scholarshiptok #msu #umich #classof2024 ♬ original sound - Bridge Michigan

Mya Riley-Vinzant, a high school senior at Robichaud High School in Dearborn Heights, told Bridge filling out the FAFSA was “pretty rocky at some points.”

The process is stressful, she said, “because college can be very expensive and since we're so young … we need as much help as we can get.”

Shreya Patel, a high school senior in Canton, is also feeling the pressure, including from her parents, who she said keep asking her about financial aid.

“I feel like it’s kind of anxiety-inducing,” Patel told Bridge. 

She’s already paid an enrollment deposit for the University of Michigan, where officials are attempting to build financial aid packages based on separate profile data rather than wait on FAFSA info from the federal government. 

Parents like Vicki Wilson of Grosse Ile are struggling too. 

As her first child prepares for college, Wilson said she found the FAFSA difficult to “log into, figure out, understand (and) comprehend,” and delays have left her  “guessing” at what aid her daughter may qualify for. 

“I’ve got to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “...I guess there’s solace in that everybody in the world that’s going to college next year is in the same boat.”

A ‘disaster’

Roughly 28% of Michigan high school seniors completed the FAFSA through mid-April, according to the National College Attainment Network. That ranks 28th amongst states and is down from 43% at this time last year. 


Experts are predicting the FAFSA "disaster" will discourage some kids from going to college, especially economically disadvantaged students who typically rely more on federal aid. The impact, one said, may be felt for decades

Students are 84% more likely to enroll in college if they’ve completed the FAFSA, said Jill Marecki, program director at Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars, a nonprofit that works with 16 Southeast Michigan high schools.

“We know there's a clear correlation,” she told Bridge. 

School counselors and college advisors say they are trying their best to help students understand their college options despite the FAFSA challenges.

Asha Shaw, early college and careers program coordinator at Redford Union High School, said students are feeling the urgency of making a decision. But she wants them to make “an informed decision, not a fast decision.”

Given the FAFSA problems, Shaw is telling students she’ll work with them over the summer even after classes are out for the year.

Asha Shaw headshot
Asha Shaw, early college and careers program coordinator at Redford Union High School, told Bridge Michigan she wants her students to fully understand their options for college.She said the vast majority of seniors are eligible for the Tuition Incentive Program, which provides funds to attend college for eligible Medicaid recipients. (Courtesy photo: Asha Shaw)

At Michigan International Prep School, school counselor Casey Blanchard is encouraging students to fill out the FAFSA to win gift cards. And at the state level, officials are using pizza as one more incentive to get the form filled out. 

Yet, even some students who see the importance of the FAFSA are unable to get their forms submitted. 

The ‘waiting game’

At Hazel Park High School, students are eligible for free tuition at Oakland Community College but have to fill out the FAFSA to get that award. 

Sonya Mondragon, a senior, wants to fill out the FAFSA but her parents have not been able to create student aid accounts. Mondragon said she is seeking help from her college advisor and may have to file as an independent student, but the process has been “very stressful.” 

Paul Billock, a college advisor at the school, said students are “running into errors left and right” while trying to seek aid for college.

Erika Ervin headshot
Erika Ervin estimates that roughly 53% of high school seniors have submitted the FAFSA at Niles High School. Ervin said more students are also trying to fill out the form but have run into issues with the form. (Courtesy photo: Erika Ervin)

The FAFSA form has also presented new challenges for students whose parents are undocumented immigrants

There had previously been workarounds for those students, said Jamie Jacobs, deputy director of the Michigan College Access Network. Now, with the new form, there are formal processes to help students, but they “are either not working or are inconsistently working.” 

At Niles High School, college advisor Erika Ervin said several students who created federal student aid accounts have been unable to complete the FAFSA because their parents do not have social security numbers.

The process can be “very discouraging,” Ervin said. “I still have those students planning on enrolling in the fall. But again, it’s a waiting game.”


Add it all up, and it’s a confusing time for students and families across the country. 

Many students will be able to “ride this wave” and still get financial aid for college, said Bonilla, the school counselor in Godwin Heights. 

But for those reluctant to even fill out the form or who have had problems doing so, “this is a hill that some kids aren't going to be able to get over.”

Filling out the FAFSA:

If you’re a college student or future college student, you can fill out the form at

Experts recommend talking to a school counselor or a financial aid staffer at a college or university. The U.S. Department of Education also has a chat feature and phone line to help you with questions. 

The Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential has virtual presentations on the FAFSA, state scholarships and explanations of eligibility requirements for different scholarship and grant programs too.

How impactful was this article for you?

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now