While the college application process is generally a time of much excitement for parents and high school students, the financial part of the equation can bring some anticipation or stress—especially filing the FAFSA.
The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is one of the most important parts of the college application process as it determines students’ eligibility for grants and scholarships. In the past, parents have often found filing the FAFSA to be confusing and cumbersome. However, the U.S. Department of Education has recently revised the FAFSA process to be much more user-friendly. Below is a summary of some important changes.
The first notable change is that the FAFSA can now be filed online. The new website includes helpful YouTube videos that address frequently asked questions and break down the process into simplified steps. While the paper-and-pencil application is still available, the online process allows for quicker filing and less overwhelming paperwork. Furthermore, the website has even been optimized for mobile use, meaning you can check in on the status of your application from your phone. Thanks to these changes, filing the FAFSA has become significantly easier to complete.
Secondly, the FAFSA will eventually move away from the PIN system—but it has not yet! For now, you still should apply for a PIN immediately as this change will not occur until sometime in spring 2015—you will be alerted to the change once it happens. For now, PINs are required for both you and your student to electronically sign the FAFSA. Applying for one is possibly the easiest part of the FAFSA process, as it is generated on the spot.
Remember, students are made eligible for a portion of federal loans just by completing the FAFSA. Sometimes people assume they won’t be eligible for financial aid, and so they don’t pursue the FAFSA process—don’t make this mistake! While it does require time to fill out, the FAFSA is worth it so that you know all options available to you when it comes to financing higher education.
While these changes are significant and can help beleaguered parents navigate the world of financial aid more easily, two notable aspects of the FAFSA process that have not changed are that money is limited, and that it is often distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier your FAFSA is received, the earlier it will be processed and position you to receive aid, so online filing can speed the process for you.
Remember, when the money is gone, it’s gone—so take advantage of the new online FAFSA system and position your student for as much aid as he or she is eligible for before it’s too late.
Photo Credit: Christopher Penn