Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an essential step for students and families who are considering higher education as their next step. The FAFSA is how the US federal government determines a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid, such as grants, loans, and work-study programs. It also helps to determine the amount of state and institutional aid a student is eligible for, which helps families decide how to pay for college.
Sounds simple? It turns out there’s a lot of misinformation about FAFSA, which leads some families to incorrectly fill out the form or, in some cases, skip it altogether.
Here are the top 3 reasons you need to fill out FAFSA—even if you think you aren’t eligible for federal financial aid.
1. To Receive Federal Aid, Including Pell Grants, FAFSA is Required
In order for students and families to receive any type of federal aid, they must first fill out the FAFSA. Once again, the FAFSA is used to assess a student’s financial need. It takes into account a student’s family income, assets, and other financial information to determine a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid.
If you don’t submit the FAFSA, you’re automatically ineligible for these programs, which include resources like Pell Grants and Federal Perkins Loans.
2. FAFSA Gives you Access to Institutional Aid
In addition to federal financial aid, many states and schools also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for state and school-based (also called institutional) aid. These forms of financial aid can help make higher education more affordable for students and families. In some cases, they’re incredibly robust and offer students greater aid than federal options.
3. FAFSA Opens Up Opportunities for Scholarships
Some schools may require students to submit FAFSA in order to be considered for scholarships and other non-traditional forms of financial aid. Unless you fill out FAFSA, you won’t know the full extent of financial opportunities specific to your college.
Aren’t Convinced FAFSA Could Make a Difference for You?
A recent survey conducted by the Education Advisory Board found that 64% of families who had filled out the FAFSA reported that the form helped them pay for college. Additionally, the survey found that students who had filled out the FAFSA were more likely to receive more generous financial aid packages than those who had not.
According to another report from Sallie Mae, ‘How America Pays for College 2022’, students and families who did not fill out the FAFSA were more likely to take out private loans to pay for college. Private loans are more expensive than federal loans and can lead to a greater burden of debt for students and families. Furthermore, private loans typically do not come with the same protections, such as deferment, as federal loans.
Another deep dive from Meadow’s ‘How the Average Student is Paying for College Tuition in 2022’ highlights the importance of the FAFSA from an aid perspective. Students who had filled out the FAFSA were much more likely to receive grants and scholarships than those who had not—and grants and scholarships are often the most beneficial form of financial aid because they do not need to be repaid.
College is expensive (for everyone) and filling out the FAFSA is the number one way that students and families can reduce what they pay out of pocket. Yes, it takes some time to fill it out - but trust us, it's worth it!