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A dad explains why the college financial aid process has him worried he'll be 'scrambling to try to find money at the last minute' for his 2 daughters

Ayelet Sheffey   

A dad explains why the college financial aid process has him worried he'll be 'scrambling to try to find money at the last minute' for his 2 daughters
  • Antonio Scordo, 50, is struggling to navigate the college financial aid process for his two daughters.
  • Due to this year's FAFSA delays, his daughters are struggling to budget for college.

Antonio Scordo, 50, wants to help his two daughters determine their budgets for college. The only problem: he has no idea how much college will cost.

Having already sent his son through college, Scordo was familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, process — but this year has brought a host of new challenges.

President Joe Biden's Education Department announced last year that it would be overhauling FAFSA applications to make them more streamlined for students and families, but the overhaul led to delays and errors. The department began sending students' applications to schools in early March, which is two months delayed.

That meant that not only would schools have a shortened timeframe to devise financial aid packages, but families would also be in a time crunch to evaluate the rewards they receive and determine which college is best for them.

Scordo said these delays have placed immense pressure on himself and his daughters because they don't have the information they need to plan for college this fall, and it's keeping them from applying for other forms of financial aid.

"We can't even really start applying for private loans and trying to compare and contrast better private student loans between different companies because we do want to know how much the college is going to cost, and we don't want to apply for too much," Scordo told Business Insider. "We also don't want to apply for not enough because then you're scrambling to try to find money at the last minute. So it's a lot of stress right now."

A key feature of FAFSA that Scordo is waiting for is the ability to make corrections to his daughters' applications. One of his daughters is seeking to transfer schools, and she's been unable to add a school that offers her desired program to the application. According to Federal Student Aid, the ability to make corrections and updates will not become available until "the first half of April."

Meanwhile, in the FAFSA dashboard reviewed by BI, the notice regarding corrections for one of Scordo's daughters states: "We expect that online corrections will be available in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can review your responses and see your eligibility information."

That means his daughter will have to keep waiting to learn if she can transfer to her desired program. The delays also don't help his other daughter — an incoming freshman who has already committed to her program. Since she doesn't know how much financial aid she'll receive, Scordo said she's applying "like crazy" for scholarships, but that's even been a challenge because many of the scholarship forms require information on how much the school costs, including how much financial aid the applicant is receiving.

The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment from BI on whether it's confident it can adhere to its timeline to allow students to make corrections to their applications. A spokesperson previously told Politico that Education Sec. Miguel Cardona "has been crystal clear — the Department is working tirelessly to ensure every student who qualifies for aid can fill out a FAFSA form with ease and access the aid they need to attain their higher education goals."

But the chaotic FAFSA rollout hasn't inspired confidence in Scordo, who said he thinks it's "ticking off a lot of people out there that are trying to get their kids into college."

"I think they could have done it a lot smoother," Scordo said. "They should have worked it out. This was a horrible rollout. I mean, can you imagine if Microsoft rolled a product out that was this bad?"

'I don't want to be paying until I'm dead'

Not only is Scordo struggling to budget for his kids' education, but he also has student loans of his own. To help pay for his son and one of his daughter's schools, he took out nearly $50,000 in parent PLUS loans, per documents reviewed by BI. These are loans a parent can take out to cover up to the full cost of attendance at their kid's school. They also have the highest interest rate of all federal loans, making them difficult to pay back.

He said he and his wife finished paying off their own student loans right before their son went into college, and given the balance he already has in PLUS loans, he's trying to avoid taking out more for his daughters. But not knowing how much their tuition will be complicates things.

"I want to help my kids, but I don't want to be working until I'm 80," Scordo said. "I don't want to be paying until I'm dead."

In response to the FAFSA delays, some colleges have pushed back the commitment deadlines, typically May 1, to later in May, allowing students more time to evaluate their financial aid packages. But errors keep arising — the Education Department recently announced that it detected mistakes calculating aid for nearly 200,000 applicants, likely resulting in further delays for final reward packages.

Cardona also recently sent a letter to governors asking them to encourage schools in their states to extend their commitment deadlines and work with the schools to ensure they have the resources they need to efficiently calculate students' rewards.

For now, Scordo and his daughters are waiting for the option to update their applications, but they'll remain in limbo until they can find out how much financial aid they're getting and whether they can afford to attend their desired programs.

"I feel bad for other parents that are going through this for the first time," Scordo said. "This has been a debacle all the way from the top to the bottom of the way it's been administered. If I were the CEO of a company that did this, I would be looking at who's responsible, and they would probably be fired."

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