Financial Aid

States Pass Laws Requiring FAFSA Completion

If high school seniors want to graduate, they have to complete a FAFSA in these states now.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

August 12, 2020

States Pass Laws Requiring FAFSA Completion
Has your state passed a law making FAFSA completion mandatory? Find out.
According to a federal study released last year, there are many reasons why students don’t complete the FAFSA: a majority of families believe that they can cover the cost of school on their own or that they wouldn’t qualify for financial aid at all. On the converse side, sadly, many students either don’t know about the FAFSA or how to complete it. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and every high school senior that plans to attend college must submit the form in order to qualify for financial aid. Without it, students may get zero financial help, making college unaffordable. In recent years, the federal government has been working to make changes to the form and the process as a whole. It’s oftentimes seen as a daunting form, but technology and simplifying strategies by the U.S. Department of Education have allowed for greater ease and transparency when completing the FAFSA. This in turn is helping to set students and their parents up for success when filling out the form, making it easier to navigate, which will allow more students to qualify and have access to financial aid.
However, these changes, for some states, are not enough. They want more students to fill out the FAFSA, more students to qualify for aid and more students to achieve the dream of attending college. As a result, they are making completing the FAFSA mandatory in order to graduate from high school. In 2018, Louisiana became the first state to pass a law requiring students to complete the FAFSA as a prerequisite for graduating from high school. As a result, Louisiana had a 78% FAFSA completion rate, which helped secure more financial aid for students across the state, according to a press release from the Louisiana Department of Education. Last year, Texas and Illinois both passed laws for FAFSA completion, becoming the second and third states to do so, according to CNBC. This is the first year that students from those states will be required to complete the form, which becomes available on October 1.
CNBC reports that Michigan, Indiana, California and the District of Columbia are all considering similar laws.

Why are states beginning to require the FAFSA for high school graduation?

Long story short, FAFSA completion rates contribute to a trickle down college success rate. The more students that complete the FAFSA, the more that are awarded financial aid. The more students that are awarded financial aid, the greater their chances of completing college. The more students that complete college, the more economic, career and personal growth.

Does making the FAFSA a requirement really help?

Yes – and no. Louisiana proves that with a requirement in place, more students will fill out the FAFSA. However, Louisiana did more than just make completing the FAFSA a prerequisite for high school graduation. According to Inside Higher Ed, there was a “multipronged approach to FAFSA completion.” An organization worked one-on-one with students and their families to help them with the form. They also left automated phone messages for parents to encourage them to complete the FAFSA. Finally, Louisiana offered vouchers for high school graduation caps and gowns to students that met the requirement. Ultimately, the FAFSA completion and requirement went beyond just filling out the FAFSA. Louisiana worked with students to make sense of financial aid packages, which helped students decide on a college that was financially responsible in the long run.

Does every student have to complete the FAFSA?

Absolutely not. These states recognize that not everyone makes the choice to attend college. Many students choose to start their career right away, while others opt for a future in the military. Whatever the case, those students can file a waiver with the help of their high school guidance counselor to be exempt from having to complete the FAFSA. With the waiver, they will still meet all of the requirements for graduating from high school. Given the success in Louisiana last year, more students can expect their states to jump on the FAFSA completion bandwagon. Likewise, Senators in Congress have packaged a streamlined FAFSA application process into the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, as reported by Inside Higher Ed. Whatever comes first, students can anticipate more FAFSA changes soon.

How can students maximize their financial aid packages?

As stated earlier, the FAFSA application becomes available on October 1. Students and their parents should work toward completing the form as soon as possible after its release because many states award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. States also have their own FAFSA deadline – as opposed to the federal deadline on June 30. Students that have questions while filling out the FAFSA should reach out to get help. The U.S. Department of Education has a FAFSA Help Center that answers common questions. also has a list of helpful resources for students as they fill out their application, including a list of local FAFSA help events. Finally, the FAFSA uses data from the prior prior year in order to determine how much a family can pay toward college, which is how financial aid packages are figured. However, families may experience drastic changes to their financial circumstances between the prior prior year and enrollment. If a parent experiences job loss or a family member falls severely ill, those circumstances are big enough to merit a change in the financial aid package. In order to make that happen, students must request a professional judgment from their financial aid office. This will require students to submit evidence of the changes, but the process is worth it. Whether or not states require students to complete the FAFSA in order to graduate, it is imperative that every student fill out the form. Again, it is the only way to qualify for financial aid – whether that be grants, work study or federal student loans. So mark your calendar for October 1, and get ready to submit your FAFSA for the 2021 – 22 academic school year.

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