The Brookings Institution reported that prospective college students that need financial aid the most are the ones not filling out the FAFSA.
The deadline to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the upcoming school year ended on June 30. Every year, eligible students will fail to fill out a FAFSA, which means they could miss out on federal aid. This can affect their ability to pay for college – and ultimately finish school.
Successfully completing the FAFSA has been linked to academic success. Although the data is difficult to track, it’s been estimated that one in seven students won’t fill out a FAFSA, according to The Brookings Institution. However, these figures can be easy to misinterpret so it’s important to look more closely at this data.
Previously, FAFSA completion rates were calculated using self-reported data, which was often inaccurate. The Department of Education now tracks the submissions, which means the data is more reliable but there are still gaps in this information.
For instance, applicants don’t have to state whether they are high school seniors or already in college. So it’s difficult to report data on the completion rates among high school seniors, The Brookings Institution reported.
It is also hard to track how many students are currently enrolled. The National Center for Education Statistics hasn’t published any updated data since the 2015-2016 school year. In contrast, FAFSA data is updated monthly.
This data could be obtained using state agencies but this presents challenges since states have different ways of measuring enrollment. School enrollment fluctuates over the course of the year, so it’s important to have a consistent standard for measurement.
It would be reasonable to assume that in school districts with the greatest financial need for federal student loans, FAFSA enrollment would be the highest. But the data shows that affluent students are most likely to fill out a FAFSA. This is because those students have access to more resources, including one-on-one support for filling out the FAFSA.
A recent study showed that school districts with high levels of child poverty have lower FAFSA completion rates. This does vary state-by-state; Alabama, California, Minnesota, and Montana all have slightly higher completion rates in low-income districts than in high-income districts, The Brookings Institution reported.
Tennessee has the highest FAFSA completion rates in the country. And both Tennessee and Maine have higher completion rates in low-income areas in comparison to other states. This is likely due to the fact that students are required to fill out a FAFSA to apply for Tennessee’s HOPE and Promise scholarships.
With over 100 questions, filling out the FAFSA can be intimidating for students and parents. The best way to encourage completion is by providing students with one-on-one support during the application process.
For several hundred dollars, students can hire someone to fill out the FAFSA for them. But there are free options for students who can’t afford this. The National College Access Network hosts free FAFSA completion events. And some states, like Nebraska, Maine, and Pennsylvania, provide free help and in-person events.
For most students, the best place to start is by contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center. Students might also want to consider targeting their search to the colleges that offer the most scholarship funding.