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FAFSA form now easier than sandblasting the garage

Simplified form, new online resources aim to help students and parents apply for college aid.

By Teresa Mears Feb 2, 2010 5:24PM

Here’s good news for prospective college students and their parents: The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) has been simplified.

 

The Kansas City Star notes that “most high school seniors and their parents would rather sandblast the oil stains from the garage floor or rearrange the attic” than complete the form, which is required to receive federal grants and loans for college.

 

The Star outlined these improvements in the online form:

  • The 2010-2011 FAFSA is shorter by about 20 questions. It also eliminates questions that don’t apply, such as Selective Service information for women.
  • More help boxes and prompts pop up while you’re filling out the application online, based on your responses.
  • Families will get an instant estimate of eligibility for the Pell grant, information that used to come several weeks later.
  • By summer, families will be able to transfer their federal income tax information to the form by clicking a link, which will eliminate another set of questions.

The changes are part of an effort by the U.S. Department of Education to streamline the college financial aid process.

 

In another effort to help college-bound students and their families, Sallie Mae, the company that provides federal student loans, has launched “FAFSA February,” unveiling new tips and tools on its Web site, including three how-to videos.

The agency is planning a national live chat Feb. 11 and is already taking questions online.

 

According to a national study from Sallie Mae and Gallup, How America Pays for College, 24% percent of eligible families did not complete the FAFSA last year, about half of those because they didn’t know or didn’t expect they would qualify for aid. They should still fill out the form.

“A common misconception about financial aid is that only certain students qualify,” Barbara O’Brien, Sallie Mae’s director of high school outreach, said in a news release. “In reality, virtually every U.S. citizen attending an accredited college is eligible for some kind of financial aid -- grant or a low-cost student loan -- you just have to apply for it.”

 

MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston advises young people and their parents to seek federal loans before even considering private loans, and the FAFSA is the first step in that process. Grants, of course, are even better, since they don’t have to be repaid.

 

The New York Times’ The Choice blog invited readers to submit questions about the application process and published a seven-part series with responses provided by financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the Web sites Finaid.org and Fastweb.com, a scholarship search site.

 

A commenter to The Choice was pleasantly surprised by the new application process. Steph wrote: “Lo and behold, I was done in 10 minutes. No kidding. I nearly wept. Kudos to the government team that pulled that off!”

 

Related reading:

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