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37% of California High School Students Didn’t Complete the FAFSA

Sept. 27, 2016
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More than one-third of California high school students did not complete or submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in the 2014 application cycle, according to a study by NerdWallet, a personal finance website. California’s rate of incompletion is lower than the national FAFSA incompletion rate of 45%, among students in all states and Washington, D.C.

The FAFSA is needed to determine eligibility for financial aid. NerdWallet found that in 2014 more than 1.4 million high school students nationwide didn’t fill out the FAFSA. By not applying, students miss out on federal, state and school financial aid, including student loans, scholarships, work-study and grants. Nationwide, in the past academic year, students missed out on $2.7 billion in free grant money, while California high school students missed out on $342.4 million.

The California Student Aid Commission has a strong commitment to promoting FAFSA filings, and application completions for the California Dream Act and California Chafee Grant Program for foster youth. As the Oct. 1 start day looms, the commission is “fully engaged” in its early FAFSA campaign across the state, according to Patti Colston, a spokesperson for the commission, which helps up to 50,000 families complete applications. The commission runs hundreds of locally organized California Cash for College workshops annually to help families file for aid.

California students will soon have a chance to further increase overall completion rates and claim more grant money. The new start date to fill out your FAFSA is Oct. 1, 2016, for the 2017-2018 school year, giving students the chance to find out about financial aid three months sooner than in previous years. The U.S. Department of Education encourages students to submit an application as soon as possible since many forms of aid can run out. The cutoff point to submit the FAFSA will be June 30, 2018, but states and schools will have their own deadlines.

This year you’ll be able to use “prior-prior year” tax information to apply — that means 2015 tax info, not 2016. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically transfer tax information to your form. To speed up the process, make sure you have all other materials you’ll need to apply. You’ll also be asked to choose up to 10 schools that you want to receive your student aid report. You can do this by using codes found through the federal school code search tool or on each school’s website.

You can file your application online at Before you apply, learn more details about the changes to this year’s FAFSA.

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.