College & Workforce Readiness

Why Don’t Students Apply for Financial Aid?

By Catherine Gewertz — December 19, 2018 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

One quarter of high school students don’t fill out the federal form they need to get financial aid, according to a new study. And the biggest reason they don’t is that many think their families can afford college without that support.

The new report, released this week by the National Center for Education Statistics, follows students who were freshmen in the fall of 2009. Sixty-five percent of those students completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Twenty-four percent didn’t. The remaining 11 percent didn’t know what a FAFSA was or if they finished it.

Here are the reasons students cited for not filling out the FAFSA:


  • Didn’t think they needed the aid to afford college (33 percent)
  • Thought they might not qualify for financial aid (32 percent)
  • Didn’t want to take on debt (28 percent)
  • Didn’t have enough information about how to complete a FAFSA (23 percent)
  • Didn’t plan to continue their education after high school (22 percent)
  • Didn’t know they could complete a FAFSA (15 percent)
  • Thought FAFSA forms take too much time or work (9 percent)

Delving into why students don’t fill out the FAFSA could fuel solutions to one of the big barriers to college: obtaining the loans or grants that make it affordable. Every year, students leave millions of available aid dollars untouched.

Federal officials have been working on this problem for years. They’ve shortened and simplified the FAFSA process and recently debuted a version students can complete on their cell phones.

The new federal report showed that race and parents’ education levels shaped patterns of FAFSA completion. Black and Hispanic students, and students whose parents had a high school education or less, were far more likely to say they didn’t have enough information about how to do the FAFSA.

The National College Access Network has tracked FAFSA patterns for years. The new data echoed some of what it’s seen in its own research. Students often don’t understand what makes them eligible for financial aid, and often think they’re ineligible when they’re not, said NCAN’s policy director, Carrie Warick.

“They are self-selecting out before they even get to a point where they’d discover how long the form is,” she said in an email.

Warick said she thinks NCES’ 65 percent completion rate could be a bit high because it’s based on survey data. When they’re asked if they completed a FAFSA, some students might say they did, but be unaware that they’d skipped a step, Warick said.

NCAN’s numbers track actual submissions, and they’re more sobering than the ones in the new federal report. Of 2018 high school graduates, 61 percent submitted a FAFSA. In 2015, that rate was 57 percent. The NCES study focused on the class of 2013.


Get High School & Beyond posts delivered to your inbox as soon as they’re published. Sign up here. Also, for news and analysis of issues that shape adolescents’ preparation for work and higher education.

Photo: Getty Images

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Opinion What Will It Take to Get High School Students Back on Track?
Three proven strategies can support high school graduation and postsecondary success—during and after the pandemic.
Robert Balfanz
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of students making choices based on guidance.
Viktoria Kurpas/iStock
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion An Economist Explains How to Make College Pay
Rick Hess speaks with Beth Akers about practical advice regarding how to choose a college, what to study, and how to pay for it.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says College Enrollment Dip Hits Students of Color the Hardest
The pandemic led to a precipitous decline in enrollment for two-year schools, while four-year colleges and universities held steady.
3 min read
Conceptual image of blocks moving forward, and one moving backward.
Marchmeena29/iStock/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor How We Can Improve College-Completion Rates
Early- and middle-college high schools have the potential to improve college completion rates, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read