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The Importance of Completing the FAFSA

Posted on 12/15/2014

Reach Higher

The Nov. 13, 2014, issue of OCTAE Connection External link opens in new window or tab featured first lady Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative External link opens in new window or tab, which highlighted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Completion Challenge. This challenge helps states, districts, and schools give students the support they need to complete the FAFSA form, which serves as a gateway to accessing financial aid to attend college or a career school.

Completing the FAFSA is required for every student applying for federal student aid. Submitting it is free, and it gives students access to the whole range of federal aid grants and loans. The data provided on the FAFSA also is frequently used to allocate state, institutional, and other aid. That is why it is important that every high school senior submit a completed FAFSA.

Students from families in lower socioeconomic status (SES) quartiles are less likely to apply for, enroll in, and complete college than students with similar academic accomplishments from families in higher economic quartiles. Also, low-SES students often do not apply to the most academically challenging colleges for which they are qualified, due to real or perceived financial barriers. For many of these students, aid is available that would enable them to enroll in and complete their degrees or attend more challenging schools. But access to this aid requires filling out a FAFSA.

Each year the U.S. Department of Education awards more than $150 billion in federal student aid (grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans). States, institutions, and private sources supplement this amount. Federal funds may be used to cover expenses, such as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and others (e.g., a computer or dependent care).

The general eligibility requirements for receiving federal student aid include demonstration of financial need, U.S. citizenship or being an eligible noncitizen, and enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program at a college, university, or career school.

The information submitted on the FAFSA is analyzed and, using a formula established by Congress, an expected family contribution (EFC) for each student is calculated. This information is provided both to the schools the student lists on his or her FAFSA and to the student.

For every student, each school to which he or she applied then calculates the total amount of aid (from all sources) being offered and notifies the student of his or her financial need determination. Financial need is the difference between the school's cost of attendance (including living expenses), as calculated by the school, and the student's EFC.

For an electronic version of the FAFSA, guidance on filling it out, and additional information, go to https://studentaid.ed.gov External link opens in new window or tab.

Source: OCTAE Connection External link opens in new window or tab – Issue 220 – November 25, 2014