The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA, is an important tool for students applying to college. As the name implies, the FAFSA is how people apply for federal student aid, and it helps make college more affordable for millions. However, fewer people are applying for the 2020-21 school year than years past.
In fact, as of early May, applications were down roughly 5 percent compared to this time last year, according to the National College Attainment Network. That equals around 250,000 fewer students applying for federal aid or renewing their application. The reason is likely disruption caused by COVID-19, but the result could be thousands of students are shut out of a college education because of affordability.
Why FAFSA Applications Are Dropping
According to the NCAN report, “The downward trend in renewals is deeply troubling and potentially points to students’ uncertainty about how, or whether, to continue on their postsecondary pathways in the fall as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across nearly every industry.”
Renewals and applications were trending slightly south in February but bottomed out in March and April, signaling that the coronavirus pandemic is the driving factor behind this change. In addition, most college campuses shut down in mid-March, and students were sent home. Few campuses have been able to firmly commit to an open campus in the fall to boot. It’s no wonder that with all the outstanding questions, some students are hesitant to move forward with the 2020-21 FAFSA.
In addition, the NCAN found that lower-income families have seen a steeper decline in applications and renewals than other groups. The result is devastating and points to the fact that low-income students can be left on the margins in good times, and entirely shut out in bad times. The NCAN compiled a list of helpful COVID-19 related resources for struggling students.
Why You Should File
Even in normal years, a lot of students don’t file for the FAFSA. That means there’s grant money left on the table. Often times, students just don’t feel they have the resources they need to apply. One study showed that nearly a quarter of students who chose not to file the FAFSA said that they didn’t have enough information about how to complete it.
Billions of dollars in grants are left on the table every year because students do not file the FAFSA. Whatever your reason may be, it’s almost always worth filing to see if you qualify for any aid. Even if you think your family doesn’t need the assistance, it’s still worth finding out what you may qualify for. The FAFSA is free to file so there’s no downside!
How Do I File a FAFSA?
You can file online at fafsa.gov, and the online portal is easy to navigate. Before you start filing the FAFSA, you’ll need some information on hand:
- Your social security number
- A Federal Student Aid ID
- Your driver’s license number (if you have a license)
- Your tax records
- Records of all other assets and income
As long as you have everything you need, filing the FAFSA is a pretty straightforward process. If you’re applying as an incoming freshman, you’ll need to list every school you’re considering attending to send your information there. If you’re already in college, simply choose your school.
You’ll need to answer some questions on your demographic and dependency information, as well as electronically sign your FAFSA before it’s officially complete.
As of last year, you can even file the FAFSA from your phone. Overall, the FAFSA is a bit time consuming, but well worth the work. Any loans you receive can help lighten some of the financial stresses of college.
Important: Keep track of the FAFSA deadlines to make sure you apply on time!