New FAFSA: Don't Let Millions in Scholarships go to Waste
Don’t believe all of the criticism you might have heard about the new FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) online form/process.
My favorite news source, The Wall Street Journal, along with Hearst Newspapers, were less than kind in their initial editorializing about the highly-detailed revised form. However, it is my opinion that the form is much improved.
True, completing the FAFSA is an annual aggravation…akin to filing one’s complicated federal income taxes. But therein lies a crucial innovation of the revised form: Your family's financial information can now be provided via your federal tax return. Applicants do, however, have to approve the IRS’s sharing of this tax return information with the Department of Education. But if one needs – merit-based or otherwise – financial assistance in pursuit of more education, such information might be well worth sharing.
As of Jan. 8, 2024, the redesigned 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online form is available on FAFSA.gov.
According to the Department of Education:
The 2024–25 FAFSA form expands eligibility for federal student aid, including Pell Grants, and provides a streamlined user experience. 610,000 new students from low-income backgrounds will be eligible to receive Federal Pell Grants due to updates to student aid calculations. Plus, applicants will be able to skip as many as 26 questions, depending on their individual circumstances. Some applicants could answer as few as 18 questions, which could take less than 10 minutes.
Why complete this form in the first place, you ask? Here are some compelling reasons:
Those seeking financial aid from virtually any college or university must fill it out as part of that process.
Potential recipients of Pell Grants (for low-income families) must fill it out as a first step to qualify for those pots of funds.
Individuals wishing to qualify for federally-subsidized student loans must fill it out, too.
Even the top echelon of brainiac high school students must fill it out to be considered for most higher education merit scholarships.
In short, about the only way to avoid filling out the FAFSA is if the prospective student, or his or her family, have so many financial resources that they neither require loans nor scholarships…or simply have no interest in merit-based aid.
The reality is, even the most well-off families are eager to be considered for merit aid…and why not?
Much Ado About...
For those early adopters who’ve already complete the new form, the reality seems to be that the form’s improvements are significant and a big time saver. In fact, the Department of Education is anticipating that Pell Grant awards will significantly increase due to the elimination of paperwork and former bureaucratic barriers for many folks. In years past numerous families simply didn’t apply or didn’t fill out the forms correctly.
Frightening factoid: The National Scholarship Providers Association advocacy group reports that upwards of $100 million of college scholarships go unclaimed every year because so many kids think they don’t qualify. That’s not necessarily the case.
The national private student loan company, Sallie Mae, which is affiliated with the scholarship search engine, Scholly, is working hard to upend the myth that only top GPA and SAT performing students qualify. Check on Google for Scholly and other search engines to aid in the effort to find “free money” for a really good cause…higher education. That little extra effort just might help those hustling students land some big prizes. Go forth and make some of your own luck.
By the way, don’t forget to look locally for scholarship opportunities. For example, the San Antonio Area Foundation offers millions in scholarships annually to local students. In Houston, the Greater Houston Community Foundation offers help to families seeking scholarship opportunities. The Houston Livestock and Rodeo Association annually raises big bucks for higher education, not all of which are targeted just to ag or “rodeo-related” students.
So, take a chance, it might be worth your while. In fact, it's worth everyone's while!