The U.S. Department of Education released a Free Application for Federal Student Aid mobile app called myStudentAid on Monday morning in an effort to make the financial aid process more accessible and less intimidating for students.
Molly Brice, a junior studying public relations, was excited to hear about the new app. Brice said she found the FAFSA website too clunky and difficult to navigate.
“I always found it very frustrating to use and hard to access, but the app makes it a lot easier," Brice said. "The format is very user friendly and easy to understand. I also think having it on my phone will hopefully help me get in my FAFSA faster than I have in the past.”
The app's interface is meant to be simple and intuitive, and is designed to avoid overwhelming a user with tasks. Upon starting an application, the user chooses between one of three categories: student, parent or preparer.
The following steps are then tailored based on the category chosen, automatically bypassing irrelevant sections. Profiles can now be updated from multiple devices, so students can fill out their required portions on a smartphone and parents can do their part from a desktop.
MyStudentAid is part of the Department of Education’s Next Generation Financial Services Environment. This initiative aims to streamline the financial aid borrowing and repayment processes and is the Department’s response to students who have been frustrated and confused by the current system.
Alberto Betancourt, a press officer for the Department, said the Next Gen initiative will focus on providing students and families the information they need.
“Next Gen will create a modern, world-class customer experience that generates greater awareness about the availability of financial aid, simplifies the process to apply for aid and improves the likelihood of successful loan repayment," Betancourt said in an email.
Betancourt said the new mobile app is the first step in transforming federal student aid. After making adjustments to the beta version of the app released this summer, the Department of Education timed the launch of the finished product to coincide with the 2019-20 FAFSA application opening date, Oct. 1.
The app doesn't encompass all parts of the online application. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically inputs information from tax files, is not yet integrated into the app.
Annabelle Webb, a junior studying political science, isn't convinced the app will actually meet the department's goal of helping students without adequate resources.
"It's still not accessible for people who don't have access to smartphones," Webb said.
Rachelle Feldman, associate provost and director of the University's Office of Scholarship and Student Aid, said she believes the new mobile platform will encourage more students to apply earlier for aid.
“We know some students have been going with their families to public libraries to use the computers there," Feldman said in an email. "Now they can do it at home when it is convenient and where they have all their documents and information."