What Does the Research Say About Barriers to FAFSA Completion and Strategies to Boost Completion?

January 2017
student using a laptop computer

Earning a college credential or degree is increasingly important, both for the economic security of individuals and for the nation’s economic development. For many students, financial aid is essential to that effort. Completing the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) is a key step in the college application process and allows students and families to access federal aid. FAFSA is also used by states and institutions to determine the need-based aid they award to students. From 1999 to 2011, FAFSA completion rose from 50 to 70 percent of undergraduates in the country . Yet, millions of students across the country who are eligible for federal aid still do not apply for it.

Based on data from the 2011/12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, about a third of students who did not file a FAFSA would have been eligible for a Federal Pell Grant, which provides aid for low-income undergraduate students and substantially lowers the costs of college. These missed opportunities mean large numbers of low-income students do not access federal aid and, as a result, may not enroll in college at all.

This resource breaks down five common barriers uncovered through research and provides a set of promising strategies that educators can employ to help ensure their students don't miss out on applying for financial aid.

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