What You Should Know About the FAFSA

As high school seniors across the state look towards the end of the academic year, many are submitting FAFSA applications and applying to colleges. Now is a good time for a FAFSA explainer.

What is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, determines eligibility for financial aid based on demographic and financial information. Congress created this form in 1992, standardizing the application process for federal aid.

Who Can File a FAFSA Application?

There are several requirements for applicants. These include, but are not limited to, Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), a signed certification statement, and a high school diploma or GED.  Applicants must also be a U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or eligible non-citizens.

Currently, the FAFSA is available in both English and Spanish, but recently passed legislation will increase the languages available to 11 total. Washingtonians who are not U.S. citizens or are otherwise ineligible can still apply for aid through the free Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA). The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) has an online questionnaire to help determine eligibility, here: WSAC Help Filing WASFA Questionnaire.

FAFSA in Washington

Washington ranks low in its FAFSA completion rate. According to WSAC’s issue brief, Increasing Financial Aid Applications Pays Off in Student Success, in 2018, about 12,800 Washington high school seniors did not complete the form, missing out on a total of over $50 million in federal Pell Grants. Only 56% of Washington’s high school seniors completed a FAFSA during the 2017-18 school year, resulting in a ranking among the bottom ten states in percentage of applications for financial aid.

According to WSAC’s FAFSA Completion Data Dashboard, only about 40% of the expected class of 2022 has completed a FAFSA this year. Through April 18, 39.8% (32,178) of the expected class of 2022 graduates had completed their FAFSAs. This compares to 58.2% (47,013) who had not submitted, 41.8% (33,803) submitted FAFSAs, and 4.8% (1,625) submitted with errors.

The educational nonprofit National College Attainment Network (NCAN), which tracks states’ completion rates through their Form Your Future website, shows that Washington ranks low nationally for its completion rates.

Mandatory FAFSA Filing

Recently, there have been efforts to make the FAFSA mandatory to graduate from high school. Louisiana was the first state to make this change in 2015; a number of other states have followed suit or are considering such a policy. A report from The Century Foundation noted some limitations to mandatory policies, including submitted applications not being accepted, creating an unfunded mandate for staff, and unique challenges that non-traditional, low-income, minority, and undocumented students face. The report stresses that mandatory filing policies must be paired with adequate supports, workshops, and hands-on support to be successful.

Benefits of FAFSA Completion

Studies have shown that low-income students are less likely to complete the FAFSA, yet are much more likely to enroll in college if they do. Associations have also been made between FAFSA completion and enrollment.

Research has shown timing of completion is important, and that successful FAFSA-filing initiatives include sending students reminder texts and pairing FAFSA completion help with tax preparation.

The Future of FAFSA

Congress recently enacted legislation that will simplify FAFSA over time, including the Future Act and the FAFSA Simplification Act. Parts of the FAFSA Simplification Act will take effect in July 2023, with some provisions scheduled for the 2024-25 award year. These changes include tweaks to the formula determining aid; streamlining the form from over 100 questions to a maximum of 36; eliminating questions about drug-related convictions; expanding Pell Grant eligibility, and more.

Additional resources for filling out the FAFSA can be found here: How to use the WSAC FAFSA Completion Portal.

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