Filling out FAFSA should not be optional
Senior prom may still be months away, but it’s time for high school seniors heading to college next fall to start thinking about applying for financial aid.
The high school class of 2017 left about $2.3 billion in federal grant money for college on the table because they did not fill out the universal financial aid form, according to NerdWallet, a personal finance website.
The first step in the process is submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as FAFSA.
It is an electronic form used by the U.S. Department of Education to dole out federal financial aid, but it is also used by individual institutions and states. Students will not be considered for financial aid without it.
It pays to file early because at some schools, funds are doled out on a first come, first-served basis. Once a student is accepted for admission, the school will send the student a financial award letter.
Many students don’t apply for financial aid because they believe they will be ineligible, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But there are many programs for which they may qualify and of which they are unaware.
If the only form of student financial aid that is offered is a loan and a student does not want to go into debt, the loans do not have to be accepted.
On average, only 44 percent of all high school seniors complete the universal financial aid form by graduation. The biggest complaint about the form, which has been around since 1992, is that it is complicated. Steps have been taken to address that.
Filing the FAFSA has been simplified in the past couple of years. Families used to have to wait until January to file the form for students enrolling in classes for the fall.
Filing now begins in October and, more important, it allows the use of the previous year’s income tax information. There is even an option for transferring income information provided to the IRS on federal income tax returns to the FAFSA.
Research shows 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly from high school, compared to only 55 percent of those who don’t fill out the form.
It also indicates that approximately 85 percent of all four-year college students receive some form of financial aid.
There is no good reason for not filing a FAFSA.