College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says

More Students in Class of 2022 Seek Financial Aid for College

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 13, 2022 | Corrected: October 16, 2022 2 min read
Hand holding a graduate's cap turned upside down and full of money.
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Corrected: An earlier version of this story misstated the financial aid cycle. Current data are for graduating high school students who applied for financial aid for the 2022-23 year.

A majority of students in the class of 2022 filed for federal and state financial aid by the end of September—a sign that pursuit of higher education is bouncing back since the pandemic, particularly for low-income students.

More than 2.3 million high school seniors have already completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which gives students access to millions of dollars in federal, state, and university support for higher education. That represents 52.1 percent of the graduating class of 2022, 4.6 percent more than the share of 12th graders who had filed for financial aid by this time in 2021, according to the nonprofit National College Attainment Network, which tracks student aid.

“We’ve definitely made some strides over the class of 2021 and we’re running about neck-and-neck with the class of 2020, but we still have a ways to go to get to prepandemic levels,” said Bill DeBaun, an analyst for the nonprofit National College Attainment Network, which tracks student aid. Nearly 54 percent of the class of 2019 completed the FAFSA.

In particular, the share of students filing for financial aid has grown roughly four times faster in high-poverty and high-minority schools than in wealthier schools and those with fewer students of color.

“Returning to in-person instruction reconnected students with the college- and career-readiness supports that they need to complete milestones like the FAFSA,” DeBaun said. “In schools where there’s a bigger preponderance of first-generation students and probably lower levels of college knowledge, having that assistance is invaluable and likely boosts the [improved] outcomes we’re seeing.”

More states also have moved to require that all students complete the FAFSA in recent years: Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, and Texas all now require universal financial aid filing, and New Hampshire will do so starting with the class of 2024.

Need-based aid becomes key

Federal and state need-based financial aid has become more critical for students graduating high school in the last few years. Many families took financial hits during the pandemic, and the ongoing fallout from repeated academic disruptions may hamstring students’ ability to get merit-based aid. Performance on college placement tests has fallen precipitously.

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In a report out Wednesday, ACT noted that the average composite score (out of a possible 36 points) for new graduates seeking a bachelor’s degree in 2022 fell below 24 points across all racial and ethnic groups. Most merit-based scholarships require a score of 25 at minimum.

Even among students who said they hope to pursue a graduate degree, only Asian-American students in the class of 2022 had average ACT scores above 25 points.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2022 edition of Education Week as More Students in Class of 2022 Seek Financial Aid for College

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