Billions In College Aid Will Go Unclaimed Again Because Students Won’t Fill Out A Stupid Form

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Way back in December, we advised high school seniors who planned on attending college to not be stupid and go fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA] form right away. Every year, billions of dollars in grant and loan money goes unclaimed because students and their parents never get around to filling out this paperwork, and it looks like the upcoming school year will be no different.

This is according to an analysis by the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners, who looked at FAFSA completion numbers in the weeks leading up to May 1 (so-called “college signing day,” when many schools require applicants to choose which college they will attend), and found that around 40% of high school seniors had not yet filed a FAFSA by mid-April.

Only five states — Tennessee, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Indiana, Delaware — and the District of Columbia had completion rates higher than 50%, while 23 states were below 40% completion rates.

Three states — Arizona, Alaska, and Utah — were all below 30% completion, with Utah having the lowest rate (18.6%) in the country.

As of April 17, there were more than 104,000 unfinished applications still pending, an increase of more than 14,000 over the previous year.

Granted, the form is an ugly mess that too-closely resembles a complicated tax return, and it requires some of the same information you’d put on your 1040, but remember: FAFSA money is not all about student loans. While it does determine whether an applicant is eligible for subsidized federal loans, the process also determines whether they can get access to grants that can reduce how much you need to borrow to pay for your education.

Even if your family doesn’t need to borrow to pay for your college, you might still be eligible for some grants. Why pay full price when someone is willing to give you a grant you’ll never have to repay?

The other issue that causes delays in getting FAFSAs filled out is the bizarre and varied deadline system. Each state has its own deadline, and a number of states cap their grants so that they are available on a first-come basis. Applying late in the process may result in the applicant not getting everything they are qualified to receive.

This PDF breaks down each state’s specific deadlines. But our recommendation for any student who hasn’t filled out the form is to fill out your form immediately.

Currently outstanding student loans already account for more than $1 trillion in debt in the U.S. The cost of attending college continues to increase, so that amount is only going to increase. Using grant money to reduce the amount that students need to borrow in the first place helps us all in the long run.


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