That’s the amount many college students could receive in financial aid by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
An even more surprising figure, however, is the number of students who aren’t taking advantage of those dollars. CNN Money reports that for the 2011-2012 school year, about 2 million students missed out on government aid—not because they didn’t qualify, but because they didn’t fill out their paperwork.
And of that group, about 1.3 million would have qualified for the maximum $5,645 Pell Grant for the 2013-2014 school year—which, unlike a loan, doesn’t need to be paid back.
These numbers come from an analysis of government data by Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president at Edvisors Network and author of “Filing the FAFSA.”
Families who may have qualified for federal aid said they didn’t file the FAFSA for the following reasons:
- 38% said they had no need for financial aid
- 34% said they didn’t want to assume debt
- 14% said they didn’t know how to apply
- 9% said applying was too much work
These numbers show that a large percentage of families lack basic information about federal student aid. For instance, not all of it comes in the form of loans, with the Pell Grant being a prime example. And while 96% of households who receive Pell Grants report incomes under $50,000, a common misperception is that eligibility is based solely on income. In fact, the government also takes into account the number of children a family currently has in college and how much college will cost, among other factors.
In order to improve education about financial aid, President Obama announced several initiatives, including a way to track online the number of high school students who have applied for the FAFSA (in hopes that schools will encourage more students to do it), a streamlined application process and outreach to low-income families.
While filling out your FAFSA and qualifying for student aid might not cross “pay for college” completely off your list, it’s almost always a good idea to file—and see what happens. If you need more information about how to fill out the form, check out our FAFSA guide.