FAFSA undergoes changes to encourage students to apply for financial aid

Juana Esquivel

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Photo Illustration by Jennifer Zeitlin

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone changes approved by the federal government to simplify the process of filling the application.

Students will encounter shorter questions, less pages and a different design among other revisions in the financial aid application beginning with the 2010-11 FAFSA.

“The whole motive behind the simplification of the FAFSA is they want to encourage students who need the money to apply for financial aid,” said Lili Vidal, director of Financial Aid and Scholarship Department.

Vidal said students are often put off by the application because it looks complicated.

“They (the federal government) don’t want them to be intimidated by something that looks like this 30-40 pages of information to something that is much simpler to complete,” she said.

Among the changes, 22 questions and 17 web screens have been eliminated from the revised application, according to a PowerPoint presentation supplied by Vidal and made by Jeff Baker, director of Policy Liaison and Implementation with the United States Department of Education.

In addition, there has been a 28 percent reduction in questions and a 65 percent reduction in web screens.

The new design allows space for features like text boxes, the use of field instructions, flyover texts, and modal boxes that help students navigate through the pages with ease.

Students at CSUN seem to be unaware of the changes made to the FAFSA application.

Some say it is because it has previously been a tedious process.

“I haven’t looked (at) it,” said Jonathan Wong, 19, a business real estate major. “I’m pretty sure it is still confusing because there is too many things to fill out, too much information. It was confusing the first time, so I’m sure it hasn’t changed.”

Vidal said she believes reports that say the old FAFSA prevented students from applying because it was difficult.

“It is more difficult to apply for FAFSA than to do your taxes,” she said. “So we’ve tried to make it better.”

Another change to the FAFSA is that its worksheet is now electronically available in Spanish, said Vidal.

She said the application has been available in Spanish in paper form but now the worksheet, which allows students and parents to complete the application’s questions before entering them online, is now available electronically.

“There is (are) a lot of parents who supply parental information and it is easier for them to complete it in Spanish, easier to understand the questions, and to select the correct answers,” said Vidal.

Freddy Yanez, 21, an accounting major, who has also not looked at the changed FAFSA but likes the idea of having it in Spanish and plans to look at it soon.

“I think that is really helpful to those who really can’t speak English well,” he said. “I think that is an advantage for Spanish speakers.”
Wong believes having the FAFSA available in Spanish makes it more diverse but asked, “What about Chinese?”

Another advantage for students will be the option of having their own or their parents tax information imported into the FAFSA.

With technological advances used in the changed FAFSA, students will no longer have to type in all the IRS information, it can simply be transferred with the new feature. This option will not be available until July and Vidal said that anyone that applies on time for the March 2nd priority deadline will not be able to do so.

A change pending has yet to be passed by the House of Representatives, said Vidal.

The bill Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 is proposing to change information that is looked at to determine a student’s need for financial aid and will eliminate questions regarding student assets.

The changes to the FAFSA have been thought of for some time now.

“It’s actually something that the financial aid community has been working on for many years but with the Obama administration there’s been a real push from the top to make the changes happen and part of it was getting different people to talk to each other,” said Vidal.