The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is notoriously difficult. With over 100 questions about detailed family financial history, it has consistently low completion rates. In fact, only three out of five high school seniors complete the application and one out of seven students eligible for financial aid, who enroll in college, do not complete the application. Completion rates haven't gotten much better with time either. In 2017, 60.6 percent of graduates completed the form and in 2018, 60.9 percent of graduates completed the form, a disappointingly low improvement percentage.
The Department of Education has long promised changes to simplify and streamline the application process. Now, students and families will finally get a modernized process with the FAFSA mobile app, named myStudentAid. Officials expect the app to be fully functional by October 1, 2018, so students can use it in preparation for the 2019-2020 school year.
Making the Application Easier
With the mobile app, students and parents can fill out the FAFSA form on their phones with new, convenient functionality. Throughout the form, students and parents can invite each other to certain parts of the application and easily switch between devices without starting over. Students can then sign their forms electronically before submitting.
Immediately after completing the form, families will know what their Expected Family Contribution is and the amount they are eligible to receive. To reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the form, the myStudentAid will adopt skip logic, so that families only have to answer questions relevant to them.
In a country that has adopted mobile-first behavior, the myStudentAid app and the new, mobile-friendly FAFSA website can have a real impact on families who use smartphones for their internet access. After all, only 73 percent of Americans own a desktop computer, while 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone. If the application is compatible with a digital technology that students and families are comfortable with, there's a higher likelihood that more students will apply and get the financial aid they need –– deserve.
Empowering the Next Generation of Borrowers
Not only will the myStudentAid app make the application process simpler, but ultimately, it will help inform and educate students about their financial decisions. From the app, students will be able to manage their financial aid, create a budget, and track financial aid spending on tuition, fees, or food against their initial budget. There will also be a mobile debit card on the app where parents and schools can deposit the financial aid money and monitor how it is spent.
Officials have said they'd eventually like the app to offer account balances, options to accept or decline a loan, compare financial factors of different colleges, and eventually, show students how much money they will owe after graduation. This app will not only help students begin their college career, but teach necessary financial literacy across a period of their lives where they'll need to be able to make important financial decisions.
While the myStudentAid app will streamline the process for mobile-savvy students, the application will retain its current overwhelming length, a major reason for low completion rates. Shortening and simplifying substantial parts of the application requires permission from Congress. Until then, the mobile app will make the application process easier than ever for students and empower them to make the right financial decisions for their future.