More than half of Texas 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. Texas’s rate of incompletion is higher 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 Texas high school students missed out on $327.8 million.
“Many are unaware this money can be for them,” says Jerel Booker, assistant commissioner for theTexas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Division of College Readiness and Success. It’s an educational process, says Booker, to ensure that all students and families know what FAFSA could do for them, especially those most in need. Nearly 60% of students are economically disadvantaged in Texas, which has the second largest statewide population in the country.
The state has worked hard for it’s completion numbers, ensuring nearly half of its students apply for FAFSA, says Booker. This year, high schools are being challenged to increase rates of both college applications and FAFSA applications by 4%.
The commission’s Generation Texas initiative aims to help students of all ages and backgrounds get excited about going to college through social media campaigns, localized and regional events and devoting the entire month of November to promoting college applications and FAFSA completion. Another program, Advise Texas College Advising Corps, is aimed especially at ensuring low-income, first-generation or otherwise underrepresented students achieve postsecondary education. These efforts support statewide goals of ensuring 60% of Texans ages 25-34 have a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030.
“We’re curious to see how the new FAFSA filing date will impact how we do business,” adds Booker. “We think it might be positive, but we won’t know for sure until this time next year.”
Texas students will soon have a chance to improve 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.