Most parents with college-age children should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, but many families never bother.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, less than 55% of families with high school seniors submit the FAFSA. That’s a low statistic when you consider how important this document is to millions of Americans. Low and middle-income students, for instance, have a 25% to 30% greater chance of enrolling in college if they file the FAFSA.
The map below breaks down what the FAFSA completion rate is for each state. The completion rates range from 34% to 67%. A higher percentage of families filed the FAFSA in states colored a darker blue. You can access the real map by clicking this FAFSA Completion link.
Here are six reasons why you should complete this important federal financial aid form:
Many parents who do not complete the FAFSA believe that they make too much money or have too many assets to receive need-based aid. That belief, however, is often wrong. You shouldn’t assume that you won’t qualify for aid unless you know what your Expected Family Contribution is.
Your EFC is a measure of what the federal and state governments and colleges themselves believe you should be able to afford to pay for college.
If you don’t know what your Expected Family Contribution is, you should find out. Your EFC will be expressed as a dollar sign and can be as low as $0 for an impoverished family. On the other extreme, there is no cap on how high an EFC can be for a wealthy family. If your EFC is lower than the cost of the schools your child applies to, you should absolutely file the FAFSA.
Without the FAFSA, you also won’t be eligible to borrow via the federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans.These loans are the best for students to use because they have a safety net for graduates who are unemployed or underemployed. The latest and best repayment program for federal student loans is called Pay As You Earn.
Without the FAFSA, you almost certainly won’t qualify for state financial aid. If you are going to file the FAFSA, you should do it as soon as you can after Jan. 1. The deadline for aid in some states can be as early as February and some states will dispense money until it runs out.
If you ignore the FAFSA, you won’t get need-based aid from the school your child attends. Some private schools and a handful of state schools, including the University of Michigan and University of Virginia, also require filing the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to qualify for institutional need-based aid. A minority of schools, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology, want parents to file the FAFSA to qualify for merit aid that’s given regardless of a family’s finances.
Your child also wouldn’t be eligible for a work-study job. The FAFSA asks if the student is interested in a work-study position. You should always check this box if your child would like a campus job. There is no obligation, however, to get one. At some schools, all or most of the student positions are reserved for work-study.