At midnight, Oct. 1, the rush begins.
That's when first-time and returning college students can get their first look at the 2019-'20 FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Anyone who wants the government's help paying for college has to finish the notoriously complicated form. But this year, in an effort to make it easier, the U.S. Department of Education has given the FAFSA a new look: a smartphone application.
"Every year, we handle over 250 million transactions of some shape, form or fashion," says A. Wayne Johnson, the chief strategy and transformation officer at the department's office of Federal Student Aid.
The problem, Johnson says, is that students who most need help paying for college often have the hardest time filling out the FAFSA. It asks questions about families' income and tax status that many low-income students struggle to answer because the only computer in their lives is at school — where their parents can't help them. That's why, when Johnson arrived at the department last year, he says, "the very first thing that I wrote on my board was FAFSA."
As in: How can the department make this thing easier?