We’ve all heard the news reports about the massive amounts of debt that college graduates leave school with. (On average, each student owes $29,400.)
Which makes the FAFSA (short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the form that helps students get funding for college, more important than ever. But there are major hurdles in completing it: It’s complicated, boring, and many students and their parents don’t even know about it.
Because of these reasons, millions of low- and middle-income students don’t fill it out each academic year — meaning that they’re missing out on grants, loans and work-study programs. It also might mean they skip college altogether because they think it’s unaffordable.
But it’s crucial for all students to complete their FAFSA. As NPR reports, “Research shows that many of the students who don’t fill out the form would be eligible to go to college at a cost of next to nothing if they did.”
So how do we make the FAFSA more accessible?
1. Make the form shorter and simpler. Some lawmakers have proposed that the FAFSA can be condensed into two pieces of information: their family size and household income two years prior. This form will come in the handy-dandy size of a postcard.
2. Bombard them with text reminders. The sky is blue, the grass is green, teens like to text. According to NPR, University of Virginia researchers found that when high school seniors were texted about finishing their FAFSA, they were 5 to 8 percent more likely to enroll into a two-year institution compared with seniors who didn’t get the texts. Another study found that when community college freshmen received the reminders, they were 12 percent more likely to fill out the form for sophomore year.
3. Streamline FAFSA with federal tax returns. It’s an idea that would cut out the complications of filing a FAFSA altogether since a student’s financial aid eligibility would be indicated by their family’s tax return, according to the Hechinger Report. There’s also the suggestion to reserve Pell Grants for families below 150 percent of the federal poverty level (about $35,000 for a family of four), with smaller grants for families between 150 and 250 percent (almost $59,000 for a family of four), the report stated.
4. Check up on them. This is a plan proposed by the Commander in Chief himself. President Obama wants to launch an online FAFSA completion tool that helps high schools verify whether students have completed the form or not (and then nudge them to finish it). There’s already a similar tool, where anyone can see the overall rates of FAFSA completion at various high schools nationwide.