Many Parents of College-Bound Students Aren’t Filling Out This Important Financial Form

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A recent study commissioned by Discover Student Loans found more than half of parents of college-bound students aren’t filling out a form that could make a difference between being able to afford college and delaying higher education. That form is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and it’s more important that you might think.

Data from Discover found only 46% of parents with college-bound students completed the FAFSA. Furthermore, many families didn’t complete the application because they didn’t think they would qualify for financial aid.

The Cheat Sheet spoke with Nicole Straub, vice president of Discover Student Loans, to learn more about the study.

The Cheat Sheet: What survey results surprised you most?

Nicole Straub: I was surprised to see so many parents and students are not filling out the FAFSA–less than half (46%) of parents with college-bound students report they have completed it. Families are potentially missing out on financial aid simply because they’re not filling out the FAFSA.

These stats reiterate how important it is for families to have conversations early about how to best pay for a college education. Students and parents should be on the same page and should explore all their options to cover college costs so they have a plan in place.

CS: Could you explain what the FAFSA is and how it works?

NS: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form that families complete annually to apply for federal student aid, as well as some state and institutional aid. Colleges use the information on the FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for grants, scholarships, work-study programs and federal student loans. To complete the application, families need to report certain financial information, but on average, the application only takes about 30 minutes to complete.

The FAFSA becomes available October 1 and families should plan to fill it out every year their student is in school, even if they feel they won’t qualify or don’t need the aid. The reality is most people will be eligible for some kind of aid. Discover Student Loans offers resources and tools to help families fill out the form and answer questions they might have.

CS: Why did only 46% of parents with college-bound students complete the FAFSA?

NS: While I can’t speak directly to why parents did not complete the FAFSA, I think there is a common perception among families that they won’t qualify for aid or don’t need it. In fact, our survey showed 50% of parents with students currently in school or recently graduated said they didn’t fill it out because they felt they wouldn’t qualify for federal aid. There is no income cap, and the reality is most people will be eligible for some aid.

CS: Why is it important to complete the FAFSA?

NS: Filling out the FAFSA is a critical step in paying for college since schools use it to determine eligibility for federal, state, and institutional aid, including free money like grants and scholarships. Every year, the Department of Education awards billions of dollars in financial aid to eligible students. Many prospective and current college students could be missing out on financial aid because they aren’t filling out the FAFSA.

CS: What advice would you give to parents and students who are overwhelmed by this form? Where can they get help?

NS: I would tell parents it’s never too early to start the conversation about paying for college. Families should work together throughout the entire process–from filling out the FAFSA to deciding which college to attend, to figuring out how to pay for it. The more communication between families, the better.

Discover Student Loans provides a variety of helpful advice and tools for students and parents at The site includes student loan calculators, tips on paying for school, and a free scholarship search tool that provides access to three million scholarships worth more than $18 billion. Taking advantage of these tools can help to foster communication and better prepare families for paying for college. For families filling out the FAFSA for the first time, our FAFSA assistant walks people through major questions they’re going to be asked on the FAFSA and identifies documents they will need.

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