As announced by the U.S. Department of Education, many exciting changes are currently in the works for the most widely used U.S. college financial aid application, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
According to the education department’s June 2009 news release, which outlined the changes to the FAFSA that took effect at the start of 2010, “The [old FAFSA] form imposes a needlessly difficult obstacle in the path of 16 million college students and their families each year. Each student is asked as many as 153 questions, most of which have little or no effect on actual financial aid packages.”
In addition to bombarding applicants with unnecessary questions, the online FAFSA form garnered criticism for being too similar to the paper version, failing to explore the full interactive benefits of the Web. Here’s a look at some changes that are currently being considered, tested, and implemented to address these concerns.
Perhaps the most immediately recognizable change to the FAFSA is that it now instantly reports Pell grant estimates and student loan eligibility. In the past, applicants had to wait for up to several weeks for those figures. Students will also be able to follow a link from the FAFSA site to additional information about prospective schools, such as graduation rates.
Additionally, measures are being taken to reduce the number of those aforementioned unnecessary questions on the FAFSA. For example, since financial assets are not taken into account when determining financial aid eligibility for low-income students, such applicants will no longer be asked those questions. Similarly, questions about prior drug convictions will only be asked of returning students, and married students or students over the age of 24 can skip questions about parents’ finances since they are no longer considered dependent children.
More to Come
Many other new features are being considered for the FAFSA:
- In January 2010, students applying for financial aid in the spring semester were part of a test group that could upload tax information directly from the IRS Web site to their online FAFSA. Depending on the results of the testing, this function could eventually be extended to all FAFSA applicants.
- Auto-population functionality could eventually make it so that students don’t have to repeat responses to questions that are duplicated throughout the form.
- The Department of Education plans to ask Congress to approve legislation that would let applicants enter only their income tax information, instead of having to submit separate forms for bank accounts, investments, assets, etc.