It’s easy to believe your income is too high for your college student to qualify for any federal student aid, but what if you’re wrong? A report from the National College Attainment Network shows that around only 53% of high school graduates who applied for college last year found out one way or another.
The study, which was released in July 2023, showed that 40% of families skipped over filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form, for various reasons. Some thought they could afford college without any help while others believed their income was too high to qualify. Another percentage of families thought filling it out would be too time-consuming, and some didn’t even know they should fill it out to begin with.
The reality is that everyone should fill out the FAFSA form for each year a student plans to attend college no matter what.
Here’s why you should fill out the FAFSA:
You Should Max Out Federal Student Loan Options First
Families who don’t fill out a FAFSA form can’t access any federal student loans and may automatically turn to private student loans to pay for college. You should really max out federal loan options in the student’s name first. Not only do federal loans come with low fixed interest rates and protections like deferment and forbearance, but they also offer income-driven repayment plans.
Private student loans can also be immensely helpful when it comes to paying for school, but federal loans should be tapped first. To find out how much you can borrow with federal loans, you need to fill out a FAFSA form.
You Might Miss Out on Free Money
Filling out a FAFSA form can ensure you’re applying for the best loan options available, but you may also find you qualify for additional financial aid you didn’t even know about. Beyond loans, you could qualify for federal grants (that don’t have to be paid back) or work-study jobs.
Some studies claim that millions of dollars in federal aid is left on the table each year because not enough students apply and stake their claim. Filling out the FAFSA form is the best way to make sure your student doesn’t miss out on aid that could be available to them.
You May Qualify for Aid You Didn’t Receive Last Year
It’s easy to believe you won’t qualify for financial aid especially if you didn’t qualify for another child in the past or when you applied last year. However, there are plenty of reasons you should still fill out a FAFSA form every single year.
Situations frequently change, and it’s possible that changes to your income, your employment, or new aid programs could mean you’re eligible for aid you don’t even know about. For example, you might qualify for aid that didn’t exist last year, or for a work-study program that wasn’t available until now because your child hadn’t yet chosen their major.
It’s Not as Hard as You Think
Finally, don’t forget that filling out the FAFSA may not be as bad as you think. The updated 2024-2025 FAFSA, which launches this December (and in subsequent years in October) is designed to be much simpler, streamlined and shorter than previous versions. You’ll have to create a FSA ID to begin, but you should be able to complete the entire process in less than an hour.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, it can be helpful to gather all the documents you need for the FAFSA before you get started. For example, you’ll need Social Security numbers, for the student and parents, and driver’s license numbers. New in 2023, the Direct Data Exchange, which pulls the necessary data from your federal tax return, will be integrated into the FAFSA, making the form even easier to fill out.
The Bottom Line
If spending less than an hour of your time could help your child get access to money for college, wouldn’t you do whatever it took? This is how you need to think about the FAFSA form. While it’s possible you won’t qualify for as much aid as you would hope to help pay for school, filling out the FAFSA is the only way to know for sure.
As you gear up to help your child apply for college, also keep in mind that the timing on your FAFSA form is crucial. The earliest date you could submit a FAFSA form for the 2024-2025 school year is December 2023. Moving forward, the FAFSA will again be released in October. Since some financial aid is doled out on a first-come, first serve basis, however, there’s no reason to delay.