I read recently that applying for federal student aid for college had been greatly simplified and that the process could take as little as four minutes.
That is absolutely true, provided you are in possession of a working time machine. If not, there is no way you are going to finish four minutes after you started.
I take that back. It is also possible to finish in four minutes if you fling your laptop through your kitchen window and tell your high school senior that higher education is wildly overrated.
For those blissfully unaware of the student aid process, I’m talking about the FAFSA form.
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, although in my head the Fs stand for something else. Did the late, great George Carlin have kids? Because if he did, I would have paid good money to watch him try to fill out the FAFSA form. He would have used every one of his seven words you can’t say on television and invented a few more to go with them.
I had my first experience with the FAFSA form this past weekend. Given I was assured by a certain Consumer News and Business Channel that the process was easy peasy, I did not see the folly of starting the process at 8 p.m. on a Sunday.
There is your first tip. If the FAFSA form is on your weekend to-do list, start it on Saturday morning. Then you should be wrapping it up around 8 p.m. on a Sunday. Not 8 p.m. Sunday of the same weekend, but the third Sunday in July.
More: FAFSA: Ask any college student. The federal student aid application is needlessly complex.
The government tells us the FAFSA form is our gateway to affordable higher learning. There is a big pot of gold — $120 billion — at the end of the FAFSA rainbow, there for the taking in the form of grants, loans and work-study opportunities.
“You Are America’s Smartest Investment,” declares the FAFSA website, which should include fine print that continues “if you can complete this application in four minutes, that is. Otherwise, get a job.”
When you start learning about the FAFSA process, you will read that each year piles of cash there for the taking are left on the table. This year, however, experts are advising that the pool of money might dry up due to the economic fallout from COVID-19.
The latest FAFSA application window opened last Thursday, so on Sunday night my son and I figured we would bang out the application during a few commercial breaks.
Within a half hour, we admitted to ourselves that the recliner and couch were not conducive to FAFSA form completion. We relocated to the kitchen table.
Did we want to use our FSA ID to populate the FAFSA form with our tax information? We had no idea. The FSA ID would speed our application along, we were advised, but we would need to create an account first.
We had our tax returns in hand. Nah, we thought, we’ll just do it ourselves.
This is just a taste of what you encounter if you do it yourself:
“This amount is your Parent 1 (father’s/mother’s/stepparent’s) portion of IRS Form 1040-line1 + Schedule 1 lines 3 + 6 + Box 14 (Code A) of IRS Schedule K-1 (Form 1065).”
After several minutes of paper-rustling, I said, “I don’t even see an IRS Schedule K-1 (Form 1065).”
“Can I look?” my son asked.
“Have at it,” I said.
My son is a smart kid. Beginning in the 7th grade, I was no longer able to help him with math. He not only understands calculus, he enjoys calculus.
After several minutes of paper-rustling, he said, “I don’t even see an IRS Schedule K-1 (Form 1065).”
It was becoming clear why piles of cash were left each year upon the federal student aid table.
We decided to go the route of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID.
“You successfully created an account,” we eventually were told. “Please note: Full account access can take up to three days.”
At that point, we called it quits and watched zombies on TV.
I felt a certain kinship with the shuffling horde on the screen. These were not soulless monsters. Clearly they were all parents of college-bound, high school seniors.