Most Families Don’t Know When to File a FAFSA for College Financial Aid

A White House decision on federal student loan forgiveness may be just days away. Yet current high school students will still struggle with how to pay for college without incurring a lot of debt.

With rising tuition, most families rely on a combination of resources to make it work. According to Sally Mae’s annual “How America Pays for College” report, income and savings cover more than half of college costs, nearly a quarter of costs from scholarship and grant accounts, and more than student loans.

However, families are missing out on opportunities to make college more affordable, said Rick Castellano, a spokesman for Sally May.

That’s where the Free Application for Federal Student Aid comes in.

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Students have to fill out the FAFSA to get any kind of assistance. For the 2023-2024 school year, the FAFSA filing season opens this fall on Saturday, October 1 – and the sooner students file, the better.

Castellano said the earlier families fill out a FAFSA, the better their chances of getting help, as some financial aid is provided on a first-come, first-served basis or from programs with limited funding.

Still, 75% of households are not aware that the FAFSA opens on October 1, Sallie Mae also found.

“You want to line up for free money; most of it is first-come, first-served,” Castellano said. Otherwise, you’ll leave free money on the table, and those dollars are what help make college affordable.

Castellano said only more than half of all families know that all students are eligible to submit an FAFSA. “It’s related.”

Scholarships may be key to college affordability

According to the education lender, scholarships are a major source of funding, yet only 60% of households access them.

About 6 out of 10 who used scholarships received them directly from their student’s school and received an average of $6,335.

The majority of families that did not access the scholarship said it was because they had not even applied.

“There are 6 million scholarships available for any interest or skill,” Castellano said. “They don’t all go to the top of the class or star athletes.”

Why don’t more families fill out the FAFSA?

Last year, 70% of households met the FAFSA, up from 68% a year earlier, a record low, according to Sally Mae.

“We would love to see that number go higher,” Castellano said.

The most common reason for those who don’t apply is because they felt their income was too high to qualify for aid, followed by allegations that the application was too complicated or that they simply knew about it. No, Sally May found it.

“Almost everyone who applies for the FAFSA is going to qualify for some sort of aid,” Castellano said.

Almost everyone who applies for the FAFSA is going to qualify for some form of assistance.

Rick Castellano

Sally Mae’s spokesperson

Many factors, not just income, go into determining how much aid students receive, including the total number of people in the household and the number of children in college, as well as other financial commitments such as home equity loans or child support payments. Are included.

Families say the application process itself is another hurdle.

However, experts say you can complete a FAFSA form online at or the myStudentAid app in less than an hour, especially if you have your paperwork, including W-2s and last year’s tax return. Sallie Mae also has a free online FAFSA tool to help families navigate the process.

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