The Department of Education has tried to simplify and improve the customer experience for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Each year, the FAFSA needs to be submitted, for a student to receive federal financial aid. The FAFSA for the school year 2019-2020 will be available on October 1st and this year families will now be able to submit their FAFSA on their phones. That’s right! FAFSA now has an app which is called myStudentAid and is available for iOS and Android devices.
In combination with the FAFSA app, The Department of Education also redesigned the FAFSA.Gov website to make it more user-friendly for families. The design of the FAFSA.gov website works well with a family’s mobile device so that the site page will fit the screen size and shape of any device.
It begins by families visually seeing a screen whereby families can pick whether they are completing a new FAFSA or a returning user. Directions are easy to follow. A new feature on the site is the “Help and Hints” where families can get information about each FAFSA question. It is located on the login page titled help for parents.
Another key enhancement is the faster feedback students and parents may notice such as immediate error notifications. Errors are identified immediately upon moving off a given field rather than after reaching the end of the page as past years.
Listed below is a quick review of the FAFSA app and some clarifications of some of the functionalities of the App.
The FAFSA App
One great feature of the FAFSA App is that it was designed with both student and parents in mind. The App has the person click whether he or she is the parent, the student, or the preparer. Questions are customized based on the person identified by the login. The new FAFSA app allows students to begin answering questions on their phones and then parents can continue completing the FAFSA either on their phone or a desktop. For a parent whose child has already begun the application, when you begin the process you carefully pick the button labeled “Continue” instead of “Start Over.” The “Start Over” button will erase any work already inputted by either student or parent.
The FAFSA App also uses “skip logic” when an individual is answering questions so that the form can be completed quicker. This process improves the experience and means the students/parents can bypass any FAFSA questions that do not apply to their family.
Adding Schools on FAFSA
As part of the FAFSA submission process, students decide what colleges will receive their FAFSA. On the FAFSA App, after choosing a college, the student is directed to either click “New Search” or “Next” depending on where in the FAFSA process the student is. New search means the student is adding another school. Next means they want to move onto the next section.
The mobile app, myStudentAid can also direct the student to the app’s myCollegeScorecard feature to quickly view and compare additional information on schools listed on their FAFSA.
As students and parents are completing the FAFSA, there are sections labeled, “You’re almost done!” which lets the family know where they are in the process. The student will also get positive feedback when they are completing their section. Phrases such as “You’ve completed a milestone!” or “You’re a Rock Star!” can be viewed by the student.
Signing the Application
When completing the FAFSA both the dependent student and one parent needs to sign the FAFSA. When using the FAFSA app both the student and the parent need to log in, individually and sign the form under each of their own FSA IDs. Make sure the application is complete because it will not be processed unless both student and the one parent click the signature submitted.
Security of the FAFSA App
Additional security has been added to the app by removing your personal information entered through your phone will not stay on the device. This extra measure is designed to ensure that a data breach does not occur. The FAFSA App is in its first year, so we will need to wait and see what happens. Last year, there was a problem with the DRT security, so I am hoping that this innovation goes smoothly.
The myStudentAid mobile app also helps students and parents in other areas besides completing the FAFSA. Individuals can view federal student aid history using the myFederalLoan option, get questions answered by contacting Federal Student Aid center and access StudentAid.gov for information concerning federal student aid programs, application process, and loan repayment options.
In the beta for the FAFSA App, the DRT Retrieval tool was not available. Unfortunately, it appears that the FAFSA App will not have DRT functionality. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool or IRS DRT electronically transfer your federal tax return information into the FAFSA form. The DRT is an important step in the final FAFSA submission process since it verifies that the FAFSA information matched the IRS information. The college financial aid offices need this verification to issue federal financial aid. It is planned to be available next year.
Other Missing App Functionality
There are a few other situations where the App will not be an option. If you would like to retrieve your information from last year under the renewal FAFSA process, this is not available currently with the App. This is specifically important for returning students.
There are some additional special circumstances that may not work using the App. If this is the case, the App will provide a message stating that you must use the FAFSA on the Web to complete your submission.
Completing the FAFSA
One of the goals of the FAFSA app was to drive up the completion rate for families who previously may not have completed the FAFSA due to not having access to a computer or high-speed internet access at home. In addition, my Student Aid was designed to simplify the application process.
We recommend everyone complete the FAFSA and are hoping the simplicity of the new process does increase the number of people completing the application. Please read our previous blogs, “Completing the FAFSA” and “Creating an FSA ID” for further details about the FAFSA application.