FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a loan program that aids students in paying for college. Families can apply today, and millions more families do every year. There are changes this year. NPR's Elissa Nworny will keep us updated on these changes. Hi, Elissa.
ELISSA NADWORNY BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: What changes are there? What are the changes?
NADWORNY - In previous years, federal student aid would have been denied to students with a drug conviction or who had failed to register for Selective Service. This is no longer true. These questions, even though they are still on the form will not disqualify students for federal student loans or Pell Grants. This is just one of a number of changes that have been made to FAFSA by recent federal legislation. Justin Draeger is the president of National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
JUSTIN DRAGER: The major changes to federal methodology and how we ask questions at the front end won't take effect until '24 or '25.
NADWORNY: The idea is to make it more fair and simpler to complete. The hope is that families will one day be able to apply for financial aid by simply completing their tax returns.
KING: I hope simplifying the process will make it easier. It is difficult to get students, their parents, and students to complete this form.
NADWORNY : Yes. The pandemic was not helping. We know that FAFSA completion for 2020 seniors who graduated first in the wake of the pandemic was 3.7% lower. This is a significant drop.
KING: What happens to kids who graduate in the spring or summer of 2021?
NADWORNY: High-school graduates who graduated in 2021 had fewer FAFSA applicants than their classmates. This could be due to - yes, there were many reasons. For example, school was virtual last academic year so students couldn't walk down the hall. Instead, they had to see their guidance counselors and college counselors. The numbers were lower in high-poverty schools, schools with large Hispanic student populations, and schools that have high levels of Black and Hispanic students. Bill DeBaun is a National College Attainment Network worker. He says that low FAFSA scores often mean that fewer people go to college.
BILL DEBAUN: FAFSA provides one of the most reliable indicators about college progress. It's alarming to see it go off the track in two of its graduating classes, and not have any confidence that it will get back on track in the current one.
NADWORNY - Now that many high schools have returned in person experts suggest we need to concentrate on getting students to fill out this form so more students can go to college.
KING: Who should fill out this form?
NADWORNY - If you or someone you know is going to college next school year, fill out this form. Fill it out even if you aren't sure you will qualify. Maybe you think you have too much money or don't want loans. There's no cost to you. Dominique Gunn is the college advisor in Columbus, Ohio. She told me that it's much easier than many families and students believe.
DOMINIQUE GUNN: Fear is caused by the unknown. This is how I feel. It's something I have never heard of before. It uses all these strange letters. Is this what it is? You'll be able to sit down and look at the task, complete it, and submit it.
NADWORNY : FAFSA used to be a long, paper-based form. Perhaps some listeners will remember. It's now completely online. Even a mobile app is available. One thing that I believe is really important is the fact that pot can be limited in certain areas. This is why it's important to do it as soon as possible.