Last spring, financial aid officers and high school guidance counselors were panicked by a number of implications from the pandemic, one of which was the number of FAFSA applications submitted. As of May 2020, the application submissions were down 2% year-over-year
What they didn’t know then was how dire the same situation would be at the start of 2021. As of now, the FAFSA has been available to students for a little over three months, but applications are down a whopping 12% from last year, according to #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker
Thankfully, school districts, states and organizations are stepping forward to meet students in their need amidst the pandemic. Read on to see how others are encouraging students to complete the FAFSA and tips for how you can navigate the process this year, too.
Community Reactions to FAFSA App Decline
In West Virginia, The Education Alliance and the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission launched a “Cool Cash for College” contest through March 1, 2021, according to The Intelligencer
. Students that complete the FAFSA before the March deadline will be entered into drawings and have the chance to win Apple AirPods, wireless printers, mini refrigerators, and gift cards.
Connecticut’s Governor, Ned Lamont, issued a statewide challenge directly to school districts. He has asked that school districts increase completion rates by at least 5%, reports Hamlet Hub
. In September 2021, the four districts with the highest percentage increases will be recognized, and the winning district from a cohort of ten will receive a $10,000 grant.
Broward County, Florida is taking a multi-tiered approach to helping its students complete the FAFSA, according to The Wall Street Journal
. They have coordinated virtual workshops in multiple languages, contacted students individually, and set up a 24-hour FAFSA hotline to walk students and their parents through the process.
Nationwide FAFSA Campaign to Launch Soon
The FAFSA Fast Break
is a national challenge amongst 20 different school districts to see which one can get the greatest number of students to complete the FAFSA. Although the FAFSA Fast Break is not a new concept, it’s certainly more important than ever.
The FAFSA Fast Break is sponsored by Chiefs for Change
, a group of state and district education leaders that are working to ensure students across the country have safe schools and an excellent education. All of their work culminates in providing students with a reliable and affordable pathway to college before pursuing meaningful work through their careers.
Their concern over the lower FAFSA apps is requiring their team of leaders to double down on finding creative ways to encourage school districts and students to complete the form.
“We can’t let COVID derail students’ dreams for life after high school,” said Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee. “The current trends are very troubling. With many fewer students submitting the FAFSA, we must redouble our efforts to help students fill out the form and get the money they need for college. School districts led by members of Chiefs for Change have found creative ways to support seniors in planning for college during the pandemic. In the fall, we published a report
highlighting some of those new approaches. We hope the ideas can help other districts as they look to serve students in this challenging time.”
Filing Your FAFSA
The decline in FASFA applications is about more than just the FAFSA – it’s about the state of the world and virtual and hybrid class schedules. Students have higher priorities than the FAFSA right now.
They may be working a part-time job in order to help parents pay the bills. They may not have access to reliable Wi-Fi. They may be foregoing their college education due to a drastic change in circumstances at home.
Whatever the case, students that have any intention (or an inkling of intention) need to complete the FASFA as soon as possible. Though the FAFSA process may seem more difficult to complete because of the circumstances, there is still help available to all students.
To get started, simply visit studentaid.gov
. The free FASFA form is only available here. You will need to create an FSA ID in order to complete and submit the form.
Then, get prepared to fill out the form with this FASFA Checklist
. If you are a U.S. Citizen but your parents are undocumented, you can still fill out the FAFSA.
Finally, if you need help along the way – seek it out. The FAFSA has a Help Center
located on their website, which is organized by topic as well as common questions. You can also get help over the phone by clicking here
Schools and communities are still hosting virtual workshops to help students and their parents through this process. Ask your guidance counselor about more information. You can also contact the colleges you’re interested in applying to and speak with a financial aid administrator. They may be able to answer your questions about the FAFSA as well.
The FAFSA App Beyond High School
The FAFSA isn’t just for high school seniors. In fact, you should fill out the form for EVERY year that you are in school, whether that’s college or graduate school. This is referred to as “Renewing your FAFSA.” The beauty of renewing your FAFSA is that most of your information will be pre-filled for you once you log in.
It’s also more important than ever for college and graduate students to renew their FAFSA. Undoubtedly, 2020 brought many changes to family’s financial circumstances. Those need to be reflected so that financial aid packages can be updated. The financial aid package you were given as a freshman might not be the same as next year’s, and if your family has undergone significant financial changes, you may be eligible for more aid.
Don’t let the pandemic prevent you from realizing your college dreams. Even if you’re still on the fence about attending college, it’s worth it to fill out the FAFSA in order to see if your financial aid package can make your dreams a reality. Filling out this form will give you the full picture, and then you can make the decision that best suits you and your family.
Remember, if you need FAFSA help, we’re here, too. Check out our FAFSA Center
for helpful articles to common and unusual questions as well as best practices for completing the FAFSA.