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The updated federal student aid form has been simplified


After a big delay, the federal student aid form known as the FAFSA reopens later this month with big changes. This application determines how much millions of families have to pay for college. NPR's Elissa Nadworny reports the new version is shorter and easier to fill out.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: College-bound seniors have a lot to do in the college application process.

MARLEE JONES: I've been writing so many essays.

NADWORNY: Marlee Jones, a high school senior in eastern Tennessee, is nearly done with her college checklist. She has completed 15 applications already. But filling out the FAFSA and finding out how she'll pay for college is the one big thing she has left to do.

JONES: Money will play a big part in where I decide to go. I mean, it could be the difference for me going to MIT or me going to Alabama. You know what I mean?

NADWORNY: The FAFSA is usually out in October, so you can know how much aid, including grants and loans, you'll be eligible for pretty early. But this year, the Education Department says the updated form will launch sometime before December 31. The reason for the delay - there's a ton of changes to this year's form.

JUSTIN DRAEGER: These are the biggest changes that are happening to the federal student aid form in decades.

NADWORNY: Justin Draeger is the president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

DRAEGER: These are really good changes that will translate into more dollars for students and families.

NADWORNY: The form has been simplified. There are fewer questions. Instead of using a tool to use info from a prior year's tax return, this year's form is integrated with IRS data, which should make it way easier to access financial information.

DRAEGER: If you are a low-income student or family in this country, we are going to stop asking you to prove over and over and over again that you are low income.

NADWORNY: The Education Department has also tweaked the way eligibility is calculated. So now in the how much you can pay category, that number can fall below zero to convey to a college a student has serious financial need. This is all good news for families and students, but the late December launch makes it so that colleges and universities won't get any student data from the completed applications until the end of January. And that means colleges are going to be in a crunch to process and send students their financial aid offer letters. So students like Marlee Jones in Tennessee may have less time to make what is often a really big personal and financial decision. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MADE OF OAK'S "PINEBENDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.