Millions of high school grads didn't fill out FAFSA to get federal grants

With student loan debt climbing every year, you’d think new students would find more ways to get scholarships and grants to cover growing college costs. But no. No, they don’t.

In fact, even fewer are looking for free money. This year, 1.2 million high school grads didn’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — better known as FAFSA, the form that gives recipients access to grant and scholarship money for college. NerdWallet says the dip in applicants left $2.3 billion of money behind.

NerdWallet says that of the 1.2 million grads last year, more than half of them would’ve been eligible for the Pell grant — the government-provided grant that students qualify for when they fill out the FAFSA. Students could’ve gotten about $3,583 dollars each if they would’ve filled it out.

“Missing out on free financial aid could mean taking on more debt to pay for college or graduate school,” NerdWallet says. “The less debt you take on to pay for college now, the less money you’ll need to repay later.”

It’s true: student loan debt is mounting to more than $1.3 trillion — the largest debt Americans face after mortgages. While you have to fill out FAFSA to get federal loans anyway, it’s a sign of how expensive college has become. The less money we need to pay back in loans means the more money we can put toward homes, retirement, and our family’s future.

The best and worst FAFSA states

Overall, FAFSA completion is down, but some states did better than others. NerdWallet says that Utah had the most incompletions of any state at 55 percent. Alaska was second with 50 percent of graduates that didn’t complete the form. Tennessee had the most applicants, with just 17 percent of high school graduates not partaking in FAFSA. Delaware was at 28 percent, while Mississippi and Massachusetts were both at 29 percent.

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While California was among one of the highest-completed states — 34 percent didn’t — they had the most students who didn’t complete the FAFSA: 145,858. More than 90,000 of those students were eligible for the Pell grant, had they applied. They left more than $300 million behind when they went to college this fall.

Texas had the second-highest number of students who didn’t apply for the FAFSA, at 140,770. They also missed out on $300 million in Pell grants.

Paying for college is easier than it looks

Ahh to be young and naïve: Most kids expect their parents to pay for any college they want to go to, regardless of the cost. That’s, well, not realistic. Time to get schooled.

Sure, parents are saving better for college than generations before, but that’s because they don’t want to put their children through the same hardships that they had with student loans (which they might still be paying off).

Thankfully, students are relying less on their parents to pay for college and looking more into scholarships and their own savings. They might not be applying to FAFSA as much as before, but they still want grants, if they qualify for them.

Parents can still get their kids 529 plans, and should if they want their kid to go to college. All states have a variation of this, but not enough families are taking advantage of it. Of course, just being a sugar baby might be enough.

Meet the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn

Writer

Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Budgeting & Saving, College, Family, News

college savings, millennials, student loans

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Article last modified on November 16, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Billions of Free Money for College was Left Behind by New Students - AMP.