NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — If you're a parent, you've probably heard of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or more commonly called the FAFSA. It's the first step to getting financial aid for your college student.
The pandemic has created financial hardships for a lot of people and so getting help to pay for college is more important than ever. Yet the number of people who have filled out the FAFSA this year is down 10% from this time last year.
The National College Attainment Network said it's down disproportionately for lower-income students.
"Students have been taken away from the traditional supports that they have," said Kim Cook, executive director of National College Attainment Network.
Groups are getting creative during the pandemic to raise awareness about the importance of filling out the FAFSA so you can be considered for federal money, including loans and grants. There's been a focus on setting up more appointments for virtual help as well.
Something else that could help is making filling out the FAFSA a requirement to graduate from high school.
Currently, Louisiana and Illinois require it and Texas will for the class of 2022. Other states are considering it as well.
"The frustration is those who could benefit the most from the aid are those who are least likely to complete the form. Probably because many students are in schools that are low resourced that might not have enough school counselors or outside community-based organizations available to help with awareness or to help students through some of the trickier questions on the form," Cook said.
Since Louisiana started requiring students to fill out the FAFSA, completion rates went from around 55% to more than 70%. The National College Attainment Network says the number is not 100% because you and opt-out after you've been advised about the form. They have seen about a 2% pump in college enrollment as well.
In two more years, there will be a better sense if the requirement is leading to more students graduating from college.
Now keep in mind states and colleges have different deadlines for completing the FAFSA. Your best bet is to find out what your child's school requires and get your application in as soon as possible. Some schools award aid as they get the applications in so the sooner you apply, the better chance you have of getting financial assistance.
While filling out the FAFSA can be a pain, in two years it should get easier. Congress recently approved changing the form and eliminating some of the questions which should make it a faster and less intimidating process.