Applying for Student Aid? There’ll Be an App for That (Next Year)

college student using smartphone outdoors on campus
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Starting next spring, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is going mobile.

The Department of Education recently unveiled its new modern approach to the financial aid process, dubbed the Next Generation Financial Services Environment. As part of that plan, students and their parents will be able to fill out the FAFSA from their smartphones.

“This overhaul is long overdue,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a press release. “[This] announcement is a significant first step in our commitment to improving the experiences students, parents and borrowers have with [the Office of Federal Student Aid] and in bringing federal student aid programs into the 21st century.”

Why Is This Important?

According to an Inside Higher Ed article, only 60% of high school seniors complete the FAFSA, and that percentage is even less among low-income students who would likely benefit from federal student aid the most.

We reported last month that 648,000 students eligible for Pell Grants did not complete or turn in the FAFSA this year, leaving behind an average of $3,583 in student aid.

Making the FAFSA more accessible could help — or at least that’s what advocates of the mobile app hope.

“Many low-income students only have access to the internet when they’re in their school building or are on their smartphones,” Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network, told Inside Higher Ed.

The new mobile app would eliminate the need to spend hours in front of a computer filling out the more than 100 questions on financial aid application.

Other Improvements on the Horizon

Making the FAFSA accessible via smartphone isn’t the only upcoming change to the student aid progress.

By fall of 2018, the education department plans to integrate the FAFSA website into the Federal Student Aid website in an attempt to make it easier to apply for financial aid.

The department eventually plans to merge all its consumer-facing websites into one user-friendly platform that students, parents and borrowers can use throughout the entire process, from application through repayment.

Congress is also looking into simplifying the FAFSA application itself. A Senate committee met Tuesday to discuss the issue.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, proposed suggestions included cutting the number of questions, using IRS data to determine Pell Grant awards and getting rid of the annual status determinations for homeless students.

Lawmakers also discussed the burdens placed upon students when their FAFSA applications get flagged for audit and they have to undergo an intense verification process, Money reported.

Perhaps simplifying that process will be next on the agenda.

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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