Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Big Test Before College: The Financial Aid Form

By: Corey Mutterperl

Most everyone agrees that something is very wrong with the six-page federal form for families seeking help with college costs. Created in 1992 to simplify applying for financial aid, it has become so intimidating — with more than 100 questions — that critics say it scares off the very families most in need, preventing some teenagers from going to college.Then, too, some families have begun paying for professional help with the form, known as the Fafsa,a situation that experts say indicates just how far awry the whole process has gone.

“We’re getting thousands of calls a day,” said Craig V. Carroll, chief executive of Student Financial Aid Services Inc., whose fafsa.com charges $80 to $100 to fill out the form. “Our calls for the month of January are up about 35 percent from last year. There’s been a huge increase in the desperation of families.”Last year, Congress ordered the form streamlined, but in the very same bill it added seven new questions. Critics say that even when all those questions are answered, the form does a poor job of assessing financial worth, both because it excludes assets like cars, boats, the family home and some family businesses, and because it does not factor in the high cost of living in areas like New York.

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