By Sumiko Martinez on February 25, 2016
The beginning of February marks a huge push in Utah to help high school seniors file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a critical step for many students. It’s often the difference between being able to attend and pay for college or choosing not to enroll for financial reasons. However, Utah has the lowest FAFSA completion rate in the nation, with only 34% of high school seniors completing the application. Click on the map to view an interactive version.
This is a big problem. With Utah’s Prosperity 2020 goal fast approaching, it’s important for more Utahns to have access to college. For many, the possibility of going to college hinges on access to financial aid. Utah high school seniors in particular are losing out by not filing the FAFSA. An analysis by Nerdwallet revealed that during 2013-2014, a whopping 40% of Pell-eligible high school seniors did not even submit a FAFSA. That means approximately $45.5 million worth of Pell grant funds, which do not have to be repaid after college, was never claimed by eligible Utahns.
Why You Should Care
For starters, YOU might be one of the students missing out on Pell grant funds! But even beyond that, it remains a fact that you do not know what aid you’ll qualify for unless you file the FAFSA.
If you’re debating on whether or not to file the FAFSA, here are a few reasons to go for it.
- The FAFSA is the only application for federal grants, the work-study program, and federal student loans. If you might want access to any of these programs, you must file the FAFSA.
- Utah’s state grants are only awarded to students who file the FAFSA.
- Filing the FAFSA is a good backup plan to cover unexpected expenses. Even if you have a full ride scholarship, it’s smart to file the FAFSA just in case something happens and you lose your funding.
- It only takes about 30 minutes to file the FAFSA each year.
- You never know what financial aid you might qualify for unless you file!
What Utah is Doing About Low FAFSA Completion
Fortunately, K-12 and higher education partners alike are mobilizing to help this happen. Here are a few key highlights of what’s happening right now:
UHEAA’s Community Outreach Team is hosting 70+ FAFSA Completion Open Houses all over the state in February and March. You can come and ask questions and get expert help filing your FAFSA.
High school counselors all over Utah are also keeping track of students’ FAFSA progress and following up to help them overcome hurdles to accessing financial aid.
And anyone can check out their school or district’s FAFSA progress using the interactive reports that UHEAA and StepUpUtah.com make available!
So join us! File your FAFSA this month, and let’s help Utah rise up from the bottom of the list.
Sumiko Martinez is a Community Outreach Officer with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA). Learn more about Sumiko at sumikomartinez.com, and connect with her on Twitter @SumikoMartinez.