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Vermont FAFSA applications are down. Some high school seniors consider gap years instead

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
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Fewer students across the country are submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The number of Vermont high school seniors applying for federal college financial aid is markedly lower than it was last year, mirroring a similar decline nationwide.

About a third of Vermont's high school class of 2024 has submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — the gateway form for federal and state loans and grants — a 23.3% change compared to this time last year. Nationwide, applications have dropped 32.9%.

The federal government gave FAFSA its first major overhaul in decades ahead of this year's application season. The new form was rolled out in January, three months later than usual. Many early users had to navigate a buggy system in order to submit their applications.

Some colleges, school counselors and financial aid advisors say the issues could add up to a decline in enrollment next year.

"We are very concerned," said Patric Leduc, the vice president and chief operating officer at the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC). "The one thing that we have to keep in mind is that they've had three months less time to work on it."

After the rocky start, Leduc said the early bugs have been fixed. Still, they're running behind schedule. VSAC is now working closely with school counselors to encourage students to keep filling out the form.

"If you think about various schools and how their enrollment cycles work — CCV, Vermont State University — there is not a clear deadline sometimes. So we'll see a lot of applications for financial aid coming in the next few months," he said. "We want to make sure as many students and families fill out the FAFSA as possible."

What about a gap year?

Meanwhile, some Vermont students are choosing to take a gap year instead of heading straight to college or trade school, or entering the workforce. Julia Rogers, a gap year consultant with EnRoute Consulting, discussed gap year options with Vermont Edition alongside South Burlington High School graduate Walker Hughes, who's in the midst of his own gap year adventure.

For students who are interested in taking a gap year but need college financial aid for the 2025-26 school year, they should wait to submit their FAFSA form until next year.

Broadcast live on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.