Many lower-income students submit FAFSA too late

Older and lower-income students tend to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) later than younger, higher-income students, compromising their access to state scholarships and institutional aid, The Wall Street Journal reports.

According to a new analysis from CampusLogic, a company that helps colleges and universities manage their financial aid services, 30 percent of students whose parents’ adjusted gross income was in the lowest quintile submitted their FAFSA forms later than March 1, 2018. The company’s review—which looked at 2.4 million FAFSAs submitted for aid covering the 2018-19 academic year—also indicated that just 36 percent of independent first-year students who didn’t expect financial support from their families submitted their forms before February 1, 2018.

Timing critical in first-come first-served situations

“When students file the FAFSA can be just as important as if they do, particularly where non-federal grant aid is concerned,” writes CampusLogic. Several states distribute financial aid awards using a first-come, first-served process. Others set very specific deadlines, often for January and February. By the time March rolls around, many cutoffs have passed, and the grant money low-income students need is already gone.

School-specific aid, including scholarships and work-study assignments, also can be time-sensitive. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for instance, has set a Dec. 1 priority deadline to make sure it can give prospective students early visibility into their financial aid offers in order to make informed enrollment decisions.

Related: Tribal college students often late to seek financial aid, report says >

“We need to rethink how state grants and institutional scholarships get awarded to ensure low-income students applying later in the aid cycle aren’t systematically being left out,” Carlo Salerno, CampusLogic’s vice president of research told the Journal. “That doesn’t appear to be happening today.”

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