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Even if you're not sure about college, you need to fill out the FAFSA

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid
College tuition
Posted at 2:20 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 16:24:15-05

Getting help to pay for college is taking on even greater importance in the pandemic.

Currently, the number of people who have filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is down 10% compared to this time last year.

The National College Attainment Network (NCAN) says it's down disproportionately for lower income students.

“Students have been taken away from the traditional supports that they have, whether that's reminders and general awareness of maybe a school counselor or an access advisor from a community-based organization coming for assembly or visiting English or civics classes to talk about going to college and the steps you need to take,” said Kim Cook, Executive Director at NCAN.

According to the Denver Scholarship Foundation, financial aid consists of scholarships, grants, loans and work-study employment opportunities that are available to help students pay for the cost of attending college.

  • Gift aid does not have to be repaid and does not require a work commitment on the part of the student. Grants and scholarships are examples of gift aid.
  • Self‑help aid requires either repayment or a work commitment on the part of the student. Loans and work-study are examples of self-help aid.
  • Need-based aid is awarded to students who demonstrate financial need by providing documentation of insufficient personal and family resources to cover the costs of college.
  • Merit-based aid is awarded to students who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement or special talent in the performing arts, athletics or other areas.

Groups are getting creative during the pandemic to raise awareness about the importance of filling out the FAFSA so you can be considered for federal money, including loans and grants. One hosted a drive-in night for information.

There's been a focus on setting up more appointments for virtual help as well.

Something else that could help is making filling out the FAFSA a requirement to graduate from high school. Currently, Louisiana and Illinois require it, and Texas will for the class of 2022. But other states are now considering this too.

“The frustration is those who could benefit the most from the aid are those who are least likely to complete the form, probably because many students are in schools that are low resourced that might not have enough school counselors or outside community-based organizations available to help with awareness or to help students through some of the tricker questions on the form,” said Cook.

Since louisiana started requiring students fill out the FAFSA, completion rates went from around 55% to more than 70%. NCAN says it's not 100% because you can opt out after you've been advised about the form. They've seen about a 2% bump in college enrollment.

In two more years, we'll have a better sense if the requirement is leading to more students graduating from college.

Completing the FAFSA will get easier for everyone starting in the 2023-2024 academic year. Congress recently approved changing the form, eliminating some questions, which should make it a faster and less intimidating process.