I spent New Year’s Eve trying to take the FAFSA. It didn’t go well.

Since 2020, when Congress ordered the simplification of the federal financial aid system, the U.S. Department of Education has faced the complex task of actually make the changes to the essentials formula to determine who gets what.

Grants and loans depend on inputs and outputs from the dreaded FAFSA form, which is normally available on October 1st. The new form was supposed to debut in 2023, but the department worked hard on it well beyond October, into November and December. .

The government has promised to open the digital doors by the end of December. My big kid is going to college this fall, so I spent Sunday afternoon and evening trying to get access the site and complete the form.

Completion proved elusive. Here is what happened.

I started around 2 p.m. and the FAFSA website (short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) greeted me menacingly: “The FAFSA form is available periodically while we monitor site performance and update update the form to give you a better experience.

He was not available at that time, nor at 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 p.m. I started document my quest on Threads.

Coincidentally (or not), I received an email out of the blue around 6 p.m. from Johanny Adames, the department’s press secretary, preemptively declaring our communication off the record. (It’s a negotiation, not a diktat, in my journalism rules.)

But the message simply told me a public announcement ” from the department, which noted that the promised availability of the FAFSA in December was actually a “soft launch” where the form would be available for “periods over the next few days.” However, the statement included the following: “Students and families will be able to complete and submit FAFSA Form 2024-25 online by December 31. »

It felt like a promise, or at least a challenge, so I continued. At 8 p.m., a Threads user named “jkvaal” started following me. Was it James Kvaal, the undersecretary of the Department of Education who oversees higher education? I wasn’t trying to ruin anyone’s night, except maybe my own. (My family was elsewhere until later and my 18 year old son was helping me remotely.)

Then, also at 8 p.m., success! The site opened and I managed to answer several questions in the “Personal Circumstances” section, which is the first of five sections that together could contain as few as 18 queriescompared to 100 or more in previous versions of the form.

The design of the site was clean. The user interface was reasonably user-friendly. But things weren’t always clear. At one point, the site was telling me that my daughter and I had already started filling out forms when in fact neither of us had, at least as far as I knew.

Eventually I continued, but didn’t get much further. There was no way, through my daughter’s connection, to send me the email that would allow me to grant the Internal Revenue Service permission to insert the income data into the form. Well, there was a way, but the email button didn’t work.

Did the form save our data? It was supposed to, but I couldn’t be sure. There was an indication that the Social Security Administration was reviewing his income history file, so that’s nothing. Once I logged out and tried to log back in to resolve the issue of sending an email to your father, the entire site was down again.

The Ministry of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

There was no need for me – or anyone – to try to fill out the form as soon as the site was available. If you need to fill out a FAFSA this year, the department won’t even send your information to colleges until “later in January.” That said, college financial aid administrators I would of course like have the information as soon as possible.

The ministry faces an enormous task here. I have every sympathy for government employees who need to improve a website that does more than 15 million people will probably use in the coming months. Ministry staff probably worked over Christmas and I take my hat off to them.

That said, I would have liked them to wait another year and get there at the end of the summer, so that everyone could have a full university cycle to get used to the new form and the new aid determination formulas. It’s too late for that, alas, so I’m going to keep jumping into this thing like it’s Ticketmaster and Beyoncé’s tickets are on the line. Fortunately, federal student loan funds aren’t running out, let alone as fast as stadium seats disappear.