The notoriously difficult-to-fill-out federal financial-aid form known as FAFSA is going mobile.
And, the federal Education Department said, it should be easier to use.
The latest version of the document, formally called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, will be available next month on a new phone app and on a revamped website that works well on mobile devices.
The digital options, announced late last year, mean that anyone with a smartphone should be able to complete the form with less hassle. About 95 percent of Americans have some sort of mobile phone, according to the Federal Student Aid office, an arm of the Education Department.
The FAFSA has been available online for years. But students and their families generally needed a desktop computer to complete the form because it didn’t work smoothly on mobile devices.
“It was clunky to use on a phone,” said Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network, which promotes college for minority and low-income students.
The form, which calculates how much students and their families are expected to pay for college, is the gateway for federal student aid and is used by states and schools as well.
Students who file a FAFSA are more likely to attend college, so anything that encourages them to submit the form is welcome, Cook said.
The Education Department this summer introduced the mobile-friendly fafsa.gov website, which automatically adjusts to fit on phones and tablets.
It also rolled out a test version of the myStudentAid app, which includes the FAFSA.
The new app is getting good marks, including from groups recruited by Cook’s nonprofit group to try it.
It’s especially helpful, student advocates said, that the form can be started on one device — say, a smartphone — and completed on another, perhaps a computer.
That means students and their parents can work on the form separately, Cook said. They don’t have to be sitting down in front of a computer at the same time.
“It got good reviews,” Cook said of the app.
The app presents one question per screen, which makes the form less intimidating, said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert.
“It was actually fun to complete,” Kantrowitz said. “It makes completing the FAFSA much easier.”
The testers did flag some problems in the early version of the app.
For instance, the college access network recommended that the app be more explicit in instructing both students and parents to sign the form.
Critically, the app doesn’t yet allow automatic transfer of financial information from the Internal Revenue Service’s online Data Retrieval Tool, which makes it easier to accurately fill in financial details.
For now, users must use fafsa.gov to access the IRS tool. While the website is now mobile-friendly, the IRS tool itself isn’t “optimized” for mobile use, so that part of the process is still awkward, Cook said.
Users must scroll and zoom to see all fields.
The updated app, which will be released next month, will offer the IRS tool with “full functionality,” according to an Education Department spokesman.
Ann Carrns writes for the New York Times.