The unclaimed aid myth is based on a 1976-1977 academic year study by the National Institute of Work and Learning. This study estimated that as much as $7 billion in employer-provided education assistance was available to employees, but only about $300 million to $400 million was used each year. Subtract one figure from the other and misreport it as scholarships to get the bogus claim that “$6.6 billion in scholarships went unclaimed last year.”
This myth is more than 30 years old, has nothing to do with scholarships and is not based on an actual tabulation of unclaimed scholarships. The reality is that almost all scholarship programs have many more applications than available scholarships.
A handful of scholarships might go unclaimed each year because of restrictive selection criteria. For example, the Zolp Scholarship at Loyola University of Chicago is for a student who was born with a last name of Zolp. The name must appear on the student’s birth certificate and christening certificate. Students cannot change their name to qualify for the scholarship. Most years, Loyola University has one or more students who are eligible for the scholarship, but some years they have none. This scholarship sometimes goes unclaimed because it can’t be claimed.
The only type of federal aid that ever goes unclaimed that could be claimed is the Federal Pell Grant. More than a million students each year could have qualified for a Federal Pell Grant, but didn’t receive the grant because they did not file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).