Is financial aid worth the hassle?

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A friend wrote a couple of days after missing the March 1st FAFSA priority deadline to ask if their family should still submit. They didn’t think they would qualify for aid, it was past the deadline, would it be worth the hassle?

The best response I could give is to run the federal FAFSA forecaster, found here. If the family’s Expected Family Contribution, EFC, is higher than the total estimated cost of college, then maybe don’t bother.

Complexity.

Why does the FAFSA process need to be so complex? Tim Johnson, writing for the Burlington Free Press, doesn’t think it should be. See FAFSA SCHMAFSA II:

You have to complete and submit the FAFSA (otherwise known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to qualify for Pell and other federal grants, as well as for federal loans. Yet the FAFSA has more questions (116) than the Form 1040A (84) or 1040 EZ (38), the IRS tax forms most commonly filed by ordinary people.  What’s more, the great majority of those 116 questions are largely irrelevant to the determination of how much student aid the applicant will qualify for. In fact, the FAFSA could be dramatically simplified without appreciably affecting the distribution of aid. We learn all this from an eyeopening paper, “Student Aid Simplification: Looking Back and Looking Ahead,” by Susan Dynarski and Mark Widerspan of the University of Michigan.

Who’s receiving aid?

Financial aid is getting tougher for even the neediest. Grace Nunez, writing at Cost of College, wrote Reminder – automatic zero EFC maximum income dropped to $23,000.

Last month Congress made it harder to qualify for an automatic zero EFC by reducing the maximum income allowed from $32,000 to $23,000 for the 2012-13 Award Year. A zero EFC usually makes a family eligible for the highest amount of financial aid.

This significant change seemed to have stayed mainly under the radar, even though it will hit low-income families hard since over 4 million students qualify for the automatic zero provision this year. Perhaps some provisions of President Obama’s 2012 “Blueprint for Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans” will counteract this benefit cut to poor families.

We approached financial aid with the attitude that we wanted to see every option available to Pete. We know that any level of aid offered from a very selective private college will be very different from that offered by a public college — we await letters and the exercise of comparing all costs and any possible awards. Of course, as a commenter wrote last week, we could learn that the Federal Government thinks we should contribute 60% of our income to college.

For next year, when we’re only dealing with one college, I’ll anticipate a simpler process (and an increased tuition and fees total, natch).

Two years from now, we’ll be back at it with a number of college apps for Julie and an EFC to reflect two students in college.

Lots of articles out now, too, about who pays / should pay for financial aid? More to come.

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3 Comments

Filed under Paying for College, Reports

3 responses to “Is financial aid worth the hassle?

  1. Pingback: Two-Factor Authentication comes to Federal Student Aid | FAST FACTS BLOG

  2. Pingback: Next Year’s financial aid « kepdavis

  3. Pingback: Three Quick Tips for College Financial Aid | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

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