Mar 15, 2012

A New Tool to Support FAFSA Completion

This week, the U.S. Department of Education debuted a new tool designed to help guidance counselors and others keep track of the number of students per high school who have completed and submitted the FAFSA form. It’s the first time such data has been made available publically, and the numbers will be updated every two weeks.

“Previously, high schools relied on self-reported surveys to estimate their FAFSA completion rate and that data can be inaccurate,” explained the Department of Education on its website. “For this reason, Federal Student Aid is providing high schools with current data about their FAFSA submissions and completions so that [they] can track their progress and help to ensure that their students complete a FAFSA.”

While the tracking documents need a little work—James Madison High School and Oakton High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, each have two separate entries and Thomas Jefferson High School (TJHSST) has three—the data should give high school, county, and state administrators a good idea of how well they are communicating the importance of FAFSA completion to graduating seniors and their families.

For example, at Woodson High School where over 95 percent of all seniors typically go on to 2- and 4-year colleges, only about 33 percent of the class had completed a FAFSA as of the first Federal Student Aid posting. Oakton High School had a 34 percent completion rate and Madison High School was at 36 percent. At TJHSST, a governor’s regional school for science and technology where about 99 percent go on to college, the completion rate is close to 60 percent.

In some cases, students may have submitted forms, but they may still be missing required information. Until the missing data is provided, the government will not consider the FAFSA as complete or submitted.

The importance of FAFSA completion cannot be understated. It’s a huge mistake to assume that there’s no possible benefit or that your family won’t qualify. Some colleges will even “pay” families to complete the FAFSA (see Oglethorpe University) by awarding small merit scholarships based only on submitting the form.

It takes a little time to gather together the information needed to complete FAFSA—social security numbers, driver’s license, income tax returns, bank and investment statements—but once you get going, it’s really not all that difficult. And there’s lots of FREE help available if you find any part of the process confusing.

Based on the information released by the Department of Education, it’s clear that the message is not getting out to everyone who could possibly benefit from federal student aid. If you haven’t submitted, make it a priority today!

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