Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—FAFSA, for short—should be a whole lot easier this year. The 2011-2012 FAFSA, which will be available online January 1, contains fewer questions and a simplified online process.
The FAFSA is required by a vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities to determine eligibility for federal student aid, including the Direct Loan program and federal grant programs.
The government has been striving to streamline the typically frustrating FAFSA experience and the latest online version of the form contains some major improvements. The Federal Student Aid website is more secure and easier to navigate, and it uses new “skip logic” to eliminate questions that are not applicable.
Although “old-school” versions of the FAFSA can be submitted (you can print a blank FAFSA online or request a paper copy by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID ) experts recommend completing the FAFSA online.
“We encourage students and parents to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.gov because it contains instructions, help features, and built-in edits to reduce applicant error,” says Karen Misjak, Executive Director of the Iowa College Student Aid Commission. “It is also processed faster than the paper version, which can be an important factor when meeting financial aid deadlines,” reports ABC 32 WNCF News.
It’s imperative that your FAFSA is submitted on time. There are federal and state deadlines, and your college may also have a deadline. You can search for deadlines here.
Some people make the mistake of skipping the FAFSA because they wrongfully assume they will be ineligible for financial aid. Families should fill out the FAFSA no matter what their financial situation looks like because many colleges use the FAFSA to be considered for institutional aid.
“It is really important for everybody to do their FAFSA form. Lots of people think they make too much money, that it’s too hard, that they just don’t want to bother with it,” explains Kelly Chapman, Vice President of foundation activities for the Student Assistance Foundation. “But it is important to do because not only is the FAFSA used to determine how much federal financial aid a student will receive. But most colleges also use the form to award scholarships available only at their institution.”
According to the Eagle-Tribune, an estimated 8 million students fail to file the FAFSA each year, citing concerns about the complexity of the process. Many of the students who skip the FAFSA would have been eligible for some portion of financial aid.
If you’re feeling frustrated, free help is available. You can chat online with a FAFSA customer service representative, speak to a FAFSA customer service representative on the telephone, or submit an online form with your questions. Many high schools and colleges are also providing FAFSA assistance to parents and students at financial aid workshops.
For some FAFSA help and a good laugh, check out “FAFSA Hooray,” an informative and entertaining rap performed by Williamsburg Charter High School students from Brooklyn, New York. Students and teachers at the school collaborated with the New York State Services Higher Education Corporation to raise FAFSA awareness.
“We believe there’s real value in taking a topic such as financial aid and using a creative outlet such as hip-hop to share vital information with students,” Art Samuels, the director of college guidance and academic culture at the school, told The Examiner. “Our hope is that our video sheds some light on the FAFSA process in a manner that makes it less intimidating and scary, and makes college more accessible to students.”
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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