The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, allows college students to access financial aid for college, including grants, scholarships, work-study and federal student loans.
Unfortunately, there are misconceptions about the FAFSA which cause people not to fill it out. Of the 19.5 million undergraduate students in 2015-16, 5.8 million (30%) did not file the FAFSA.
The answer is always yes, you should fill out the FAFSA.
Many students and parents don’t fill out the FAFSA because they believe they make too much money to qualify for aid. However, the U.S. Department of Education gives more than $120 billion per year in federal aid. The only way you can get your share is to file the FAFSA.
About a third of undergraduate students do not file the FAFSA. Of students who do not file the FAFSA, 2 million would have qualified for a Federal Pell Grant. That is free money for college that you do not pay back.
See also: Am I Eligible for Financial Aid?
Others don’t fill out the FAFSA because they aren’t certain on their college plans yet. You can add a school even if you’re unsure of where you will be attending college. You can add a school even if you haven’t applied or been accepted.
Some students and parents don’t want to take on debt with federal loans. You can still receive free money with grants or a scholarship or get the opportunity to participate in a work-study program by filing out the FAFSA. If you’re awarded federal student loans, you don’t have to accept them.
Another reason someone may not fill out the FAFSA is because they believe the FAFSA is too much work. The FAFSA takes about an hour or less to fill out. If you are able to receive free money for college, that hour is well worth it.
You should file the FAFSA every year, even if you got nothing other than loans last year. Subtle differences, such as a change in the number of children in college, can have a big impact on eligibility for need-based financial aid.
The Institute for College Access and Success reports that almost half (47%) of students that borrowed private student loans, could have opted for more affordable federal loans by filing the FAFSA.