Most Families Don’t Know When to File FAFSA for College Financial Aid


A White House decision on federal student loan forgiveness could be days away. However, current high school students will still find it difficult to pay for their studies without going into too much debt.

With rising tuition, most families rely on a combination of resources to make this work. Income and savings cover more than half of college fees, free money from scholarships and grants makes up about a quarter of costs, and student loans make up most of the rest, according to the annual How America Pays for College report. by Sallie Mae.

However, families are missing opportunities to make college more affordable, Sallie Mae spokesman Rick Castellano said.

That’s where the Free Federal Student Aid app comes in.

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Students must complete the FAFSA to access any type of assistance. For the 2023-2024 school year, FAFSA filing season opens this fall on Saturday, October 1 — and the sooner students file, the better.

The sooner families fill out the FAFSA, the better their chances of receiving aid, Castellano said, because some financial aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis, or programs with limited funds.

Yet 75% of families don’t know the FAFSA opens on October 1, Sallie Mae also found.

“You want to line up for free money; a lot of it is first-come, first-served,” Castellano said. Otherwise, you’ll be “leaving free money on the table, and those dollars will help make college affordable.”

Only just over half of all families know that all students are eligible to submit the FAFSA, Castellano said. “It’s worrying.”

Scholarships may be the key to college affordability

How Students Can Find Scholarships and Grants to Help Pay for Their College Education

Scholarships are a key source of funding, but only 60% of families use them, according to the education lender.

About 6 in 10 people who used scholarships got them directly from their student’s school and received an average of $6,335.

The majority of families who did not use the grants said it was because they had not even applied.

“There are 6 million scholarships available for any number of interests or skills,” Castellano said. “Not all of them go to those at the top of the class or star athletes.”

Why More Families Are Not Completing the FAFSA

Last year, 70% of families completed the FAFSA, up slightly from 68% the year before, which was a record high, according to Sallie Mae.

“We would like to see that number be higher,” Castellano said.

Of those who do not apply, the most common reason is that they thought their income was too high to qualify for aid, followed by the application being too complicated or they simply didn’t know. not, Sallie Mae found.

“Almost everyone who applies for the FAFSA is going to qualify for some form of aid,” Castellano said.

Just about everyone who applies for the FAFSA is going to qualify for some form of aid.

Rick Castellano

Sallie Mae spokesperson

Many factors, not just income, come into play in determining the amount of aid students receive, including the total number of people in the household and the number of children in college, as well as other financial commitments such as a home equity loan or child support payments.

The application process itself is another hurdle, families say.

However, experts say you can complete the FAFSA form online at fafsa.gov or on the myStudentAid app in less than an hour, especially if you have your documents handy, including W-2s and last year’s tax return. Sallie Mae also has a free online FAFSA tool to help families navigate the process.

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