FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—opened on Oct. 1 for the 2022-2023 academic year. Yet every year, many high school grads leave money on the table by not filling out forms like the FAFSA. Maybe you think you don’t qualify for aid, or that it’s simply a waste of time. According to CNBC, this kind of confusion contributes to why students miss out on their slice of $150 billion in federal student aid each year.
Here’s why it likely makes sense for you or the college-bound kid in your life to fill out the FAFSA—no matter what.
The FAFSA determines more than just loans
The purpose of the FAFSA is to determine how much financial aid a student qualifies for—including both need-based and non-need-based aid. It’s worthwhile to fill out to discover how you qualify for all kinds of financial assistance, including federal, state, and school-based aid, as well as merit-based scholarships.
The initial numbers are not set in stone
Students can always appeal for a better financial aid offer. You might be able to get more assistance if your financial conditions have changed due to things like unexpected health costs or job loss. According to a report from Sallie Mae:
As financial circumstances changed due to the pandemic, 29% of families who received a financial aid offer from their school appealed for more aid. The appeals of the majority (71%) were granted. Additional aid included: Higher grant amounts (52%); Higher school scholarships amounts (47%); Higher federal loan amounts (14%); Higher work-study (13%).
At the same time, you don’t need to accept all (or any) of the amount you’re offered. In fact, Rebecca Safier, a student loan counselor for Student Loan Hero, advises students to “try to minimize borrowing as much as possible so you don’t end up with burdensome debt after graduation.” Because student loans are intimidating, to say the least.
There’s no official income cutoff to apply
Don’t assume that you don’t qualify based on your household income level. Even if you aren’t eligible for all types of aid, there is no official income cutoff to apply for federal loans. There are income requirements for need-based aid like work-study or scholarships like the Pell Grant. It’s important to understand the criteria to gain—and hold onto—your eligibility (such as no GPA requirements for incoming students).
It’s free and (allegedly) quick
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid website, the (free!) FAFSA form takes the average student less than an hour to fill out. So even though you might not know where—or even if—you’re going to school, you should look into applying for federal aid ASAP. The process may be daunting, but with FAFSA, the earliest bird gets the worm.