Why Completing the FAFSA Is an Important First Step to College Access

Posted by Matt Lenhard on January 31, 2019 at 12:33 PM


A college education can set you up for a bright future, increased earnings, and a fulfilling career, but it will be one of the most expensive purchases you’ll ever make. To make it work for you financially, you need to think strategically. This game of chess you’re playing has the potential to save you a small fortune if you play correctly.

Most students will need some sort of financial aid to be able to afford college. The first step they should take is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. This may be your best bet for securing financial aid, even if you think your family will make too much money to get any aid.

Why Is the FAFSA Important?

If you only fill out one application for college financial aid, the FAFSA is the one you should pick. It offers access to the most beneficial financial aid for higher education.

It will give you access to Pell Grants, as well as some state grants. Grants are the number one type of aid you want to secure because, unlike loans, you don’t have to pay them back. Also, because of your FAFSA application, you can have access to low-interest student loans that have various repayment options to suit multiple situations.

And the sooner students fill out the FAFSA – ideally by the time they graduate – the more they’ll know about their finances for college. That gives them more time to come up with a plan or seek additional financial aid so they can get the money together to attend school.

How Organizations Are Improving Access to the FAFSA

While would-be borrowers who fill out the FAFSA can get big money for their efforts, the participation rate could be improved with some estimates saying 1.5 million of high school graduates failed to fill it out.

So getting the word out about the FAFSA has become a high priority, as well as helping students understand how to fill out the application and teaching them about financial aid overall. Because college is such a huge expense, students need to become savvier about it. Here are some efforts that are underway to increase the usage and understanding of FAFSA:

  • The Tennessee Promise, an effort to drive up the number of Tennessee high school graduates who attend college, is increasing FAFSA completion in that part of the country.
  • Some politicians, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), are trying to make applying for the FAFSA less difficult for students. It’s a notoriously difficult form to fill out, and proponents of reform say more people will use it if it is streamlined.
  • The Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority outreach team has made an effort to increase the FAFSA completion rates. As a result, there was a .9 percent increase in the percentage of Utah high school seniors who filled out the FAFSA for the 2018-2019 school year.
Matt Lenhard is the Webmaster for the Student Loan Report and can be reached at Matt@studentloans.net.

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