For the first time in four years, FAFSA filing rates are up.
What’s a FAFSA?
Most students who apply to college have heard of the FAFSA — formally known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is a form that determines whether American students are eligible for aid, setting up students with federal grants, loans and work-study positions.
FAFSA aid is based on financial need, so the form takes information from both students and their families. The FAFSA is then broken down into several different chunks.
From their tax returns (and a whole slew of questions), the U.S. Department of Education then determines each student’s Expected Family Contribution, abbreviated as their EFC. This is when it becomes an individualized process. Each student’s form is evaluated by their college’s financial aid office, and the office subtracts each student’s EFC from the cost of attendance to determine financial need.
Though this is a very oversimplified version of the process, it hits the gist of what a FAFSA does.
The Formula? Cost of attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Financial need. Schools then try to meet each student’s financial need, whether that be with grants, scholarships or loans.
Why are more students filing FAFSAs?
To encourage filing, the 2017-18 FAFSA form opened three months earlier than usual, allowing students to file their FAFSA starting in October rather than January. The new form also uses tax information from two years ago, allowing applicants to use completed tax returns rather than estimations.
And these strategic changes paid off; from 2016 to 2017, the number of FAFSAs filed by all applicants went up by 6 percent.
When looking at high school seniors — the target demographic of these adjustments — filing increased by 9 percent. The overall completion rate for the high school class of 2017 also hit 61 percent, five points higher than the class of 2016.
Especially when college comes with such a steep price tag, students need to be able to understand how to apply for financial aid.
With more than 14 million FAFSAs filed for the 2017-18 year, it’s clear that the new process works better for many students. Adjusting the time period for filing a FAFSA, and switching the tax information required, noticeably simplified the difficult process, encouraging more students to apply for aid.
And hey, the Department of Education gives out more than $150 billion in student aid each year, so you might as well see if you qualify for some of it.
Have something to add to this story? Comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.
Header image: Adobe Stock