Millions of students are missing out on billions of dollars of free money for college because they don’t file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or because they don’t file the FAFSA early enough.
About 2.0 million students did not file the FAFSA in 2011-2012, the most recent data available, but would have qualified for Federal Pell Grants totaling as much as $9.5 billion if they had filed the FAFSA (averaging about $4,700 each). They might also have qualified for an additional $2.9 billion in state and institutional grants (averaging about $1,400 each).
Students who file the FAFSA earlier may receive more financial aid than students who wait. This is because certain student aid programs distribute funds on a first-come, first served-basis. The FAFSA becomes available each year on October 1. We recommend filing within the first three months (October, November, or December) to maximize federal student aid opportunities. More than 1.1 million students might have received as much as $3.8 billion more in state and institutional grants (averaging about $3,400 each) had they filed the FAFSA during the first three months of the FAFSA application cycle. Some states and colleges have very early FAFSA deadlines for awarding their own financial aid funds. In the 2015-2016 award year, nine states award state grants on a first-come, first-served basis until the money runs out, three states have February deadlines and 11 states have March deadlines.
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