Report: Low-Income Students Fill Out Their FAFSAs Later Than More Affluent Peers

By Jayna Johns, NASFAA Communications Staff

Data reported from the 2018-19 FAFSA cycle indicates older, higher-need students may be the most at-risk for missing out on aid opportunities, as deadlines for programs that use FAFSA data may pass before they’ve submitted their application. CampusLogic’s review of the most recent FAFSA filing patterns shows the more resources students have available, the earlier they tend to fill out the FAFSA application, which in turn boosts the odds of being awarded some types of aid.

Dependent students tended to submit their FAFSA applications earlier than their independent peers, according to the report. While more than half of dependent students submitted their FAFSAs before Jan. 1, 2018, the opposite was true for independent students: more than half filed their FAFSAs later in the year, after March 1, 2018.

Reported family income also made a difference in filing patterns. More than two-thirds of students from families in the highest income quintile filed their FAFSAs prior to February 1, 2018, compared with 60 percent of students from families in the lowest income quintile. Those low-income students were more likely to file the FAFSA later—30 percent did not submit their FAFSAs until after March 1, 2018.

When looking at demonstrated financial need, independent students with a zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC) filed earlier. Thirty-nine percent of those students filed before Feb. 1, 2018, compared with 33 percent of those with a high EFC. Among dependent students, however, higher-EFC students submitted their FAFSAs sooner. Two-thirds of high-EFC dependent students submitted a FAFSA before Feb. 1, 2018, compared with 61 percent of zero-EFC dependent students.

There also appeared to be a connection between age and submission time—younger students tended to submit their applications earlier. Less than half of dependent students over the age of 20 submitted the FAFSA before March 1, 2018, compared to 65 percent of 19- and 20-year-old students and 88 percent of students 18 years old or younger.

While there is not a hard deadline to file for federal aid, many states and institutions have rolling deadlines for grants and other aid. For priority consideration in Connecticut, for example, there is a mid-February deadline for the 2019-20 cycle. In California, students must submit their FAFSAs by March 2 to be considered for many state aid programs. That’s why it is beneficial for students with greater need to submit their applications early.

The FAFSA plays an important role in making higher education accessible and affordable for many, and the report suggests that these trends show a limitation of the current financial aid system in getting aid to lower income and independent students.

“College costs are a major reason many prospective students struggle to complete a postsecondary credential or simply never enroll—especially first generation and minority, who often haven’t had family go through the higher education process before,” the report said. “When students file the FAFSA can be just as important as if they do, where non-federal grant aid is concerned. Many state grant programs utilize FAFSA data, but these programs can also have fixed application deadlines or dispense funds on a first-come, first-served basis until resources have been depleted.”


Publication Date: 3/20/2019

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