Student Aid

The Education Department has found the best way to encourage interaction with the public — or at least with students — is to offer money.

Students and parents can log on to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Web site to apply for financial aid for college. According to Jeanne Saunders, the site's program manager and director of applications processing for student financial aid at the department, more than 700,000 applications have been filled out online since Jan. 2.

"We try to make it friendlier, responsive and faster," she said. "And I think all that is the benchmark of good customer service."

Saunders said online filing not only saves paperwork, but people seem less intimidated by reading instructions and filling out the forms electronically than by poring over dozens of hard-copy pages and documents.

The electronic filing also ensures that only complete forms are filed; in the past, incomplete forms cost students time because the paperwork had to be sent back via mail for additional information. As an individual fills out the online form, the system alerts a user if a box had not been filled in or if any information that is included contradicts other information in the form.

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