FAFSA embraces the digital age with new student aid tools


Filing for financial aid can be a dreary and dizzying process, but the Department of Education wants to make it a little easier.

Starting Oct. 1, college hopefuls can file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2019-2020 school year. Submitting this form determines eligibility for federal grants, loans, work-study programs and more.

The form has been referred to as confusing and complicated — and it’s estimated that as many as two million students don’t apply for aid each year because of its “unnecessary” complexity.

This year, the DOE aims to make the process smoother and less intimidating. Filling out and submitting the form is now available through a mobile app, myStudentAid. You can find links to download the app here. The website has also been redesigned to be mobile-friendly, making the form accessible via phone or tablet.

The number of questions remains the same (a whopping 100 plus, according to Consumer Reports), but the Department of Education says the questions will be displayed in a more “user-friendly way” and grouped differently to aid in navigation through the site.

Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate, notes that these tech updates shift the responsibility and initiative of filling out the form over to students, rather than leaving it to parents.

“While the current generation of soon-to-be-college-entrants live on their phones, there is no one over the age of 45 that will want to deal with the eye strain of filling out a 100+ question form like that on a phone,” says McBride.

Prospective and current students have until the last day of the academic year to submit their FAFSA. Since some aid is available on a first-come, first-served basis, submitting early could be in the filer’s best interest — but McBride offers insight on getting the most out of the application.

“It might make sense to consider waiting until after January 1 if there has been a substantial drop off in household income in the most recent calendar year that could lead to qualifying for more aid,” says McBride.

State and specific college deadlines vary, so it is recommended that students do their research to ensure on-time submission.

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