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Paying for College

Financial-Aid Form Gets a Facelift

The new FAFSA is shorter, more helpful and less confusing.

Eliza Schalch has enough to do as a sophomore at Amherst College without spending hours filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). So her dad, Scott Davis, takes on the chore. Says Davis, “It’s a pain, no doubt about it.”

This year the job will be easier. The 2010-11 FAFSA on the Web, which can be filed starting in January, shortens the application by as many as 22 questions. It skips questions that don’t apply to your circumstances. (For instance, female students are not asked about Selective Service registration.) It also includes help boxes and prompts based on information you provide, and it more clearly identifies which sections apply to parents and which apply to students.

The new FAFSA doesn’t just determine your family’s eligibility for federal financial aid. It also gives you information about the schools your student lists on the application, including retention, graduation and transfer rates, and it provides links to more-detailed information on each college’s costs and programs. The Student Aid Report, provided after you file the FAFSA, will indicate which federal loans your student can expect to receive and include an estimate of any Pell Grant funds.

As for more-significant fixes, such as the elimination of assets from the federal financial-aid formula, don’t expect to see them on the new FAFSA. They depend on proposed legislative changes that, if approved, won’t kick in for at least a year.