The FAFSA hooks up students and potential students with various ways to obtain federal and state grants. You don’t even need to learn how to use a pencil to fill one out. The Dept. of Education’s website has an online version you can plug your info into.
But according to the latest analysis from NerdWallet, some 1.45 million high school graduates didn’t fill out a FAFSA in 2014. Not all of them would be grant eligible, so the study cuts that figure down to around 750,000 graduates who would have been able to claim some federal Pell grant money.
On average, these students were leaving $1,861 in grant money on the table, but in several places that average was well over $2,000, peaking at $2,639 (Mississippi) and $2,513 (Washington, D.C.) per student.
Not surprisingly, the country’s two most populous states — California and Texas — also represented the most unclaimed grant money, at $342 million and $328 million, respectively. Just those two states account for nearly 25% of all the unclaimed money nationwide.
For years, we’ve been urging students to fill out their FAFSAs at the start of the new year, as some grants — especially state-level ones — are disbursed on a first-come basis. Filling out the FAFSA early also gives you a head start on getting a better understanding on what you’ll have to borrow or go out-of-pocket for in the next school year.
Last year, one study found that some 40% of potential applicants had not finished a FAFSA by mid-April, only weeks shy of the traditional May 1 deadline for most incoming college students to finally select which school they are going to attend.
Starting next fall, students can get started on the FAFSA process even earlier, so that it better aligns with the college application process instead of coming after students and their parents have already exhausted themselves filling out countless forms.
To help applicants out, NerdWallet has created a free online guide to steer aid them in navigating the occasionally frustrating form.