If you haven’t completed a FAFSA form in a while, the paper assignment has over 100 questions and dozens of pages of instructions. If you fill it out online, the system uses your answers to determine which questions you need to answer. However, you’re dealing with a site that’s far from user-friendly, uses “you” and “your” interchangeably to refer to parents and learners, and even logging in can be difficult due to the odd terminology.
More importantly, completing the FAFSA doesn’t tell you what you qualify for until you’ve decided on an institution, which leaves you in the dark even after all your hard work, and the vast majority of the questions don’t affect, how help is provided is purposeful.
The Government is aware of the undue complications of the FAFSA application. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee introduced the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act in 2015 to make it easier for learners to apply for financial aid (FAST Act).
The law would have reduced red tape and only required two questions to make aid more accessible and predictable. Unfortunately, the bill was never put to the vote.
Why complicate the system?
Learners are urged to apply to the FAFSA as soon as possible to maximize their award as more funds become available earlier in the application season. Being at the front of the line prevents students from arriving at the counter and finding that the bank is out of money.
This is the key to understanding why the FAFSA is so difficult.
There is only so much money that can be distributed, and if everyone has the time, patience, and ability to apply for financial help, it will run out sooner than later. Indeed, research has shown that those most affected by the intricacies of FAFSA are students with fewer resources – individuals who would also be entitled to more support based on their family income.
More learners, demanding and entitled to more money, would put even more strain on the government’s willingness to allocate resources to higher education. This would push it to address issues like poverty and widening income inequality, which require more than just reducing the number of questions on an application.
FAFSA applications are difficult – and everyone, including the government, knows it. Unfortunately, college and college access are not expected to improve any time soon.