Millions Miss Out on College Aid

Libby Kane

College Campus$5,645.

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.

RELATED: 9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About … Financial Aid for College

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.

  • Danielle M.

    These articles infuriate me to be honest. All anyone wants to discuss is the people who could qualify if they “had only applied.” What about the people who applied and got denied because their parents apparently “make too much”? I recently graduated college with my BAS in accounting. I was a slightly above average student in high school (A’s and B’s) and in college I also did pretty well for myself. I managed to land a job at one of the Big Four Accounting firms upon graduation and should be living comfortably with the hours I work and the salary I make; however, when I went to go apply for financial aid in college because my mother is on permanant disability and my father, at the time, worked two jobs (he recently got laid off), the government told me and my family that my parents “make to much” to offer aide. Instead, I got stuck taking out $130,000 in loans (and let me clarify I went to a public state school) and now I pay $1415 A MONTH for my loans all because apparently my family who at the time was barely making ends meet – and now isn’t – made too much. I have no pity for people who don’t even take the time to apply. Why not trying offering some insight on those that did and the system still managed to fail them?

    • guest

      I should hope there would be room to discuss both types of situations (yours and the one described in the article). I too had to take on a lot of debt to go to school, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want others who are eligible for aid to get that assistance. There needs to be holistic education reform that makes it so that everyone has access to a college education (and to the information they need to get any type of financial aid they qualify for). It’s not you vs. them; we’re all in the same boat with rising tuition costs and the burden of student loans.

      • Rebecca

        When we filed the FAFSA application for our eldest daughter in 2008, I was astounded by the fact that we didn’t qualify for any aid at all. Not even a subsidized loan. We have a large household, live in a high cost of living area (not by choice, it’s where the job market is the strongest in our field) and hold three jobs between my husband and myself to cover all of the basics and have a bit to save for a rainy day. One University told us that based on our application, they assessed that we had $40,000 of disposable income a year to pay for tuition. I guess if we didn’t feed our other kids, stopped paying our mortgage, taxes and insurance costs, that number would have been accurate.
        My other children are going the community college route so they can live at home until they transfer to a 4 year university. They also all take lots of AP classes in order to get the college credit. It’s the only way we can even begin to afford a degree for them. I don’t want them to have crushing debt when they graduate and we can’t pay the full cost of the ever increasing tuition.
        I can’t help but feel resentment that my tax dollars are helping so many other students, but not mine. My kids will have to shoulder more debt because we work so hard? Doesn’t seem to make much sense.