Nationally, FAFSA completion rates are down over 16% compared with this time last year, with just under 19% of current seniors having completed it through the first week of November. While the drops are steeper in lower income schools, schools with higher concentrations of students of color and in rural areas, significant declines show up across all school demographics.
Many families– across all income levels– don’t complete the FAFSA because they think they aren’t eligible for financial aid. Yet almost everyone benefits from filling out the FAFSA. Here are a few reasons why you should complete it, regardless of your financial situation.
- You might be surprised. With list prices for many private schools well in excess of $70,000 annually, many families qualify for need-based financial aid, especially those with more than one child attending college.
- You must file a FAFSA to be eligible for federal student loans, work study, Pell Grants and many institutional grants.
- State grants for higher education are generally allocated based on the FAFSA. Many of these are distributed on a first come, first served basis, so if you are eligible you should complete the FAFSA NOW.
- College might cost more than you expect, between varying rates for room and board, lab and other fees, travel and more. Many families who don’t intend to borrow end up doing so because they’ve underestimated costs. And again, you must have completed a FAFSA to access federal student loans.
- Your financial situation could change. If you’ve learned nothing else from the last 8 months, hopefully you’ve learned that life can be unpredictable. No matter how stable your situation, it could change. If it changes, you might want to be eligible for financial aid. To be eligible for financial aid, you need to have completed the FAFSA.
- The FAFSA gives you some leverage over your student. Any expectations or requirements you might have for your student– pursuing a pre-professional major in addition to a passion project, not getting a tattoo while you’re paying their bills, maintaining a certain GPA or courseload– are best coupled with a fallback plan that doesn’t involve them withdrawing from school. The easiest and least punitive is that they’ll need to take out a direct student loan annually if they’re not adhering to your expectations. And they can only do that if they’ve completed the FAFSA.
- The FAFSA may be required for consideration for some merit awards. Many institutional merit awards have a need component to them; if so, all students wanting to be considered typically need to have submitted a FAFSA.
- For those in the fortunate situation of truly not needing financial aid, filing a FAFSA that shows your strong financial position could be a plus in the admissions process. Even the best-funded institutions have been hard hit financially, so showing that you can pay full price could help your student in the admissions picture.
If you’ve already done your FAFSA and want to help others file it, reach out to your local high school and ask the college and career center if you can volunteer to help families complete the FAFSA. Or you can search your local area for low-completion schools on Form Your Future’s FAFSA Tracker and try to get involved that way.