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October 2, 2020

Yesterday, was the first day students could complete the FAFSA.

For those who are unfamiliar, FAFSA is short for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  Filling out this form provides a student access to Federal funds from the US Department of Education, for higher education. It requires students to provide their families personal financial details so that it can be determine what their family’s financial “need” is. Pell grants, need based local college scholarships and student loans are apportioned by the government (state and federal) via this application.

In some states you may also have to fill out a supplementary application for the state too, but the majority of your student aid is going to be given to you through completing this one document. On a yearly basis, the U.S. Department of Education gives over one hundred and twenty billion dollars in federal grants, loans and work-study funds to more than thirteen million college students. (

Stunningly, on average only about half to two thirds of graduating students fill out the FAFSA. Some stats I’ve seen even show the number to be as low as forty percent of graduating high schoolers.

The list of excuses for students not filling out this form is as long as my arm.

Here are the top three excuses for not filling out the FAFSA are and why I call BS on every single one of these excuses:

1) We can afford it

Thirty-three percent students who didn’t fill out the FAFSA thought they or their family could afford school or college without financial aid.

Why is this BS?

It’s great that your family can afford to send you to school and I can totally appreciate your willingness not to “be on the public dole” by not taking financial aid. That’s really socially responsible of you. However, you’re not saving the government any money or increasing the amount anyone gets in financial aid by doing so. What’s budgeted is budgeted. It does spread a small bit more toward others, if you don’t take it. However, each student’s amount of aid is determined by their “need” as determined by calculations made with the financial data you provide and what the federal government provides the University you attend. There’s only so much Pell Grant, for instance, at the institution and only so many students will qualify for it. You’re not going to move the needle that much. Your family is also shooting themselves in the foot by not taking financial aid that you’d be entitled to and saving the money to give you, the student, for a better start in life after college graduation, or even for themselves after retirement. Wouldn’t that be nice to have? Right! So, fill out the form!

2) We’re too rich to qualify

Thirty two percent of students who didn’t fill out the FAFSA thought they or their family may be ineligible or may not qualify for financial aid.

Why is this BS?

This is tightly tied to the number one reason. It is so hard for me not to roll my eyes at this one every time I hear it. Like “OMG I’m going to die” type of rolling my eyes… This is especially true when I hear certain teachers and even college counselors telling students that they shouldn’t apply using FAFSA for this reason. It is such a huge disservice to the student and, as I’ll discuss shortly, the higher education system in general.

First off, check your privilege if you’re thinking this way. Saying this is like saying you’re too good to even try on a cute new pair of Jessica Simpson shoes because you have used Manolo Blahniks in your closet. It just doesn’t hurt to try it and see what happens. You lose nothing in the attempt except for some small amount of time and you might be surprised because…

Secondly, realize you might just be wrong. Aid is available for anyone with a household income below two hundred and fifty thousand a year. If your parents make more, and bless them if they do, they (and you) are part of only two percent of the population. ( and ) If you’re high school had about two thousand students, maybe forty students would fit that criteria. That’s not that many.

If you’re in that upper part of the bracket– close to but not making two hundred and fifty thousand per year — you might not get as much financial aid as some, but you’ll get something. You also might be keeping yourself out of consideration for state and school specific scholarships which require FAFSA to be filled out. That includes merit scholarships too.

Additionally, any student loans you do decide to take out through the FAFSA program will be less costly. Forty-seven percent of private student loan borrowers could have used more affordable federal loans. (

Beyond that, you also have the chance to reject the aid package if it is all student loans or you decide you really just want to pay yourself. There is no harm at all in applying, even if you think your family is too wealthy to qualify for aid. So, fill out the form!

3) I don’t want any loans

Twenty eight percent of students who didn’t fill out the FAFSA did not want to take on debt.

Why is this BS?

Again, you don’t have to take the loans they offer. If you decide to take the loans, there’s a separate “application” and agreement form you’ll have to fill out, but you don’t have to take the loans. You simply decline the aid package. You can even appeal the aid package with your college or university to get different or increased financial aid.

This is especially important to remember if your financial status changed in the period since you’ve filled out your taxes or FAFSA initially.

But what if you’re wrong? What if you don’t get an aid package comprised completely of loans? Don’t you want whatever grant or scholarship money you can get? Yeah, that’s right, I know you do! So, fill out the form!

Some slightly more legitimate reasons for not filling out the FAFSA, but still shouldn’t stop a student from doing so are:

1) I don’t know how to do it or I don’t have what it is asking for

Twenty three percent of students who don’t fill out the FAFSA say did not have enough information about how to complete a FAFSA. I suspect that this is because there’s a certain amount of students in a similar position to what I was in. I didn’t know what it was, or how the FAFSA worked. That was taken on by my mother in my freshman year. I didn’t have access to certain documents from my mother’s taxes to fill out the FAFSA in my sophomore year, either.

I bit the bullet. I learned and got the documents. I got my aid. You can do this too.

I get that the form, even though it’s online now – or maybe even because it’s online now, may be intimidating. It may seem very difficult to overcome, but it is worth it.

Furthermore, they have now made it even easier to handle your FAFSA application by linking the tax system to the FAFSA online. All you have to do is have your personal information (social security number, birthdate etc.) or the personal information of your family members supporting you and the system will automatically fill in the financial information from tax forms submitted previously into the FAFSA. It’s just that easy. So, fill out the form!

2) I’m not going to college or I didn’t know it existed

Twenty two percent of students who didn’t fill out the FAFSA, did not plan to continue education after high school. Not going to college is a very good reason not to want to fill out the FAFSA. I would definitely keep in mind that if you’re going to a trade school or something of that nature, there’s a chance that you still might be eligible for aid in doing so. Definitely check with them about it.

Plus you never know if you’re going to change your mind and decide to go, so it still may be something you want to fill out.  Otherwise, work hard and have a great life.

Fifteen percent did not know they could complete a FAFSA. Your high school guidance counselor clearly didn’t tell you because they were too busy or well, just weren’t the best at their job. That’s ok. It happens. You know now. So, fill out the form!

3) It’s too time consuming

Nine percent of those who didn’t fill out the FAFSA thought the FAFSA forms were too much work or too time-consuming.  Yeah, I can see how having to take a few hours of time to fill out a form that will give you access to money to cover your college tuition would be a real bummer.

You know what’s even a bigger bummer? Not being able to pursue your dreams because you let a little paperwork get in the way. It’s online, and easier than ever. Yes, it takes time and there can be complications but do it! Go the library if you don’t have WIFI, but do it! Fill out the DANG form!  (Stats from:

Maybe it should be required. Having students fill this form out automatically, is a small change that might have big consequences in terms of future generations access to higher education.

Can you see how doing this eliminates all but may be one (not going to college) from the list above? It takes too much time… Too bad, fill it out. I think I’m too rich… Sorry you have to fill it out. Didn’t know it existed… Nope, it’s mandated and your school is required to let you know and have it filled out by you.

We can take that fifty to six something percent of students filling out the FAFSA to near eighty or ninety percent with just this one move and here’s what we get from it:

• Students are more likely to go to college if they know they can afford it. “Ninety percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA proceed directly to college, versus only 55 percent who don’t complete the FAFSA.” (

• A requirement would make it more likely that high schools take on the responsibility of helping all students get this form completed.

• For those students whose income (or family’s income) exceeds the limits, a simpler form could be made available to complete. (A FAFSA-EZ – you could call it)

More importantly, as Catharine B. Hill eloquently points out in her Inside Higher Ed article, FAFSA for All:  “It is completely reasonable for policy makers to expect certain outcomes from highly subsidized institutions in exchange for federal and state financial support. This new FAFSA policy would result in greater transparency on the part of colleges and universities regarding admissions decisions and the resulting socioeconomic diversity of their students.  FAFSA for All would lead to a higher number of lower- and middle-income students being eligible for financial aid, including Pell and institutional grants, reducing their need to borrow. Greater transparency could also encourage colleges and universities with higher graduation rates to do more to recruit lower- and middle-income students, as they respond to public pressures to justify their large federal and state tax advantages. Expanded financial aid resources and more enrollment opportunities would significantly benefit lower- and middle-income students.” (

Why would it increase the incentive for more selective and retentive schools to recruit more financially disadvantaged students? Because they would know that the students’ tuition would be paid. Financially disadvantaged students tend also to be a more diverse population too. It stands to reason then, that if colleges were encouraged by this change to recruit from this population, their campuses would automatically be more diverse, as well. We catch two birds from the bush in one swoop.  (or whatever mixing of metaphors you care to use that doesn’t involve killing things)

CASE EXAMPLES: Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and Illinois  How does this work in practice? We have some data from the “case study” that Louisiana has turned into. In the state of Louisiana, they have made filling out the FAFSA a requirement. As of June 28, 2019, Louisiana had the highest percentage of high school seniors completing the FAFSA, at just under eighty percent. Just under seventy-eight hundred more students applied in Louisiana in the first year of implementation.

What’s more impressive is how it motivates young people to pursue higher education. According to MorraLee Keller, director of technical assistance at the National College Access Network, Louisiana saw a six percent increase in college and university enrollment after the requirement was put in place. (

Tennessee has had similar results with a close in-kind program. The program, called Tennessee Promise, is a last-dollar scholarship initiative that allows high school graduates to complete an associate degree or technical certification program at a community college or the Tennessee College of Applied Technology free of charge, and requires students to fill out the FAFSA. This program set lead them to be a close second to Louisiana in terms of percentage of students filling out the FAFSA. (

Texas implemented the requirement in July of 2019. Illinois has instituted the same requirement as of June 2020.

We will have to see where these states shake out in terms of statistics but the initial data from the other states is quite promising.

Bottom line, fill out the FAFSA!