They are five letters that strike fear into every parent who has ever picked up a pen and tried to complete an application for their child to receive a scholarship or student aid in order to attend college.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a document required for any student to be considered for financial aid for tuition, board and other college expenses. Anyone who has attempted to fill out one of these forms could be easily convinced a college education is required to complete the process.
I recently heard one parent express what many are experiencing as deadlines for completion quickly approach. She explained that she and her husband have advanced degrees and still found completing the FAFSA form almost overwhelming.
The amount of financial information required is staggering, and many of the questions require documentation that has long ago found its place lost among dated bank statements and tax returns.
One parent said she and her spouse spent an entire weekend attempting to complete the FAFSA challenge. We’ve been working on it for weeks at my house, and every time I open the application, I get that same feeling I remember from my days in statistics class. It’s that clueless approach, I’m sure, that makes the process harder than it has to be; or maybe not.
Some educators have noted the difficulty in completing FAFSA could be a factor in declining college admissions across the country. One administrator said some parents and students simply give up on the process and delay or dismiss plans for college.
And students who don’t have parents with those advanced degrees often are responsible for completing the forms on their own, a daunting task for the most ambitious of learners.
I understand that thorough financial records and other information are necessary to ensure federal assistance goes to the students who truly need it, but making that process overburdensome could be contributing to exactly the opposite. In other words, the students targeted for aid are the least prepared to fill out complicated financial forms.
Assistance is available and guidance counselors and other administrators willingly offer help in filling out the forms, but some of the dicier elements require parental input. One parent said the process required him to retrieve financial documents from years ago.
There could be light at the end of the tunnel. One local administrator said federal officials have heard the chorus of complaints regarding FAFSA, and a new simplified form is scheduled to be released in 2023. Deciphering what the feds might consider simplified is anybody’s guess, but any relief is a well welcomed relief for parents who are struggling with the current process.