Students: Complete your FAFSA for Financial Aid

Today, October 1st, marks the start of access to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, often known as the FAFSA. This is the first year the FAFSA has been accessible before January 1st. Completing the FAFSA is critically important because it is the application that college students must submit in order to apply for federal student aid including Pell Grants, federal student loans, and work study opportunities. The FAFSA is also used by many states — including Pennsylvania — to determine eligibility for state grants and many colleges and private organizations use it to determine other scholarships or financial assistance.

In 2014 alone, according to NerdWallet, a personal finance website, more than 62,000 Pennsylvania high school graduates didn’t complete the FAFSA and missed out on more than $96 million in total Pell Grant resources and countless more in college based financial aid. Nationwide, NerdWallet estimates students missed out on as much as $2.7 billion in free Pell Grant resources. With college costs squeezing wallets across the country, it’s critical that students and families receive all the financial aid they are eligible for.

This new “early FAFSA” is also coupled with a simple change from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), that will make the form even easier to fill out. Before this year, families had to manually input their tax and income information. This was difficult because most families usually wait until late winter or early spring to complete their taxes. Now, applicants will be able to instantly retrieve their IRS data from their previous year’s tax return and merge it directly into their FAFSA application.

The “early FAFSA” coupled with the data retrieval from the IRS means financial aid information will be more in line with the college admissions process. It will give students and families more time to fully consider their options and make an informed decision on which school they should select. The data retrieval from the IRS means fewer mistakes and a more complete picture of how much a family will have to contribute. Finally, many colleges give aid on a first come, first serve basis, and “early FAFSA” will give all students and families the opportunity to get every dollar available.

These improvements should make the process easier and help more students and families fully access federal financial aid and afford college. That’s why I was proud to join my colleagues in asking the Secretary of Education to implement these changes.

An “early FAFSA” will help students and families receive aid to pay for college, but there’s more we must do to ensure all students have a fair shot to succeed in higher education. That’s why I am a cosponsor of the In the Red Act which would allow student loan borrowers to refinance their loans at a lower rate, make sure Pell Grants are adjusted for inflation, and provide two years of free community college. I also fought to extend the Perkins Loans Program, which provides critical aid for nearly 40,000 Pennsylvania students who might otherwise have to drop out of school because of financial struggles.

When the FAFSA goes live today, I hope students and families across the state will take the opportunity to fill it out. For more information, you can go to https://studentaid.ed.gov.