The U.S. Department of Education estimates that approximately 15 million parents and students fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form every year. The form is used by the federal government to determine a student’s eligibility for federal assistance in the form of loans, grants, work-study and a number of scholarships, and it is also used by some colleges and universities to determine the nature and amount of financial aid provided to students. Filling out the FAFSA is a required step for obtaining student loans and other forms of financial assistance.
In partial fulfillment of President Trump’s promise to simplify the student financial aid application process, the 2019-2020 FAFSA used by students who applied for financial aid for the spring semester of that year was a much shorter application form, and students applying for financial aid in the 2020-2021 school year will be filling out an even more simplified FAFSA form, available as of this summer. Below is a review of the principal features introduced into the new FAFSA form:
The new FAFSA form has 114 questions as opposed to the 136 on the old form and the web-based version has 17 fewer screens. This represents a 28% reduction in questions to be answered and about 65% reduction in web screens. The questions eliminated concern information that is not required for determining financial need status but that were included in the old form (drug convictions, veteran’s benefits etc).
After completing the new FAFSA form, students are instantly provided with a Pell Grant estimation to let them know if they are eligible for student loans.
The new web-based FAFSA form uses “skip-logic” that considerably reduces the time needed to complete the application process. Parents and students don’t need to navigate through questions that do not apply to them since “Skip logic” technology personalizes the respondent’s application using information submitted. The new web design includes status indicators that help applicants to skip questions that don’t apply to them. For example, low‐income students can skip irrelevant questions about their personal or parent’s financial assets and students who are not dependants (married students or those over age 23) skip the questions on parental financial status.
The simplified, user-friendly FAFSA also uses a keyword ‘check-box’ format for questions concerning additional financial information and untaxed income, while side tabs make it easier to identify student and parent sections.
An ‘auto-complete’ feature will allow students to retrieve relevant tax and financial income information reported on their tax return forms from the IRS. Automatic downloading of tax data into online FAFSA forms will make the online application process much easier.
According to a study conducted by American Council on Education, as many 1.5 million low-income college students who are probably eligible for federal aid do not even apply for it because the process is too complicated. The simplified FAFSA form is intended to address this issue and increase enrollment in colleges and universities among low and middle-income students. If the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2019 is passed, the FAFSA form may be simplified even further.