1.1 Million FAFSAs Completed Before Jan. 1

January 13, 2017

By Courtney Argenti, Graduate Policy Intern 

More than 1.1 million high school seniors could know their estimated family contribution (EFC) and Pell Grant status before they apply to college this year. According to the FAFSA High School Completion Tool from the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office, over 1.1 million FAFSAs were completed and 1.2 million FAFSAs were submitted before Jan. 1 — the previous date FAFSA became available for applicants. By comparison, high school students usually file approximately 1.5 million FAFSAs by graduation day.

“This is a big win,” explained Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at NCAN. It demonstrates that Early FAFSA is achieving one of its two goals: “Students know their federal financial aid earlier.” But whether the primary goal of Early FAFSA — “for students to complete the FAFSA with less difficulty (ultimately leading to more completions)” — is being met is yet to be determined. “We won’t actually know whether more students complete the FAFSA this year than last until early July, but completion rates after many state deadlines in March will be telling,” Warick said.

The most recent data from the FAFSA High School Completion Tool show nationwide FAFSA submissions and completions through week 14 of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 application cycles, or data up through Feb. 26, 2016 and Dec. 30, 2016 (respectively). When comparing week 14 of the 2016-17 FAFSA application cycle with week 14 of the 2017-18 application cycle, submissions and completions are generally down. However, this does not necessarily indicate that fewer students are completing the FAFSA than last year — or that Early FAFSA is not achieving its goal of increasing FAFSA completion.

For our complete chart of high school senior FAFSA submission and completion data, broken down by state, click here. You can also view NASFAA’s Early FAFSA Map for complete details on state financial aid deadlines.

Most states that offer state financial aid require students to complete the FAFSA in order to qualify for their grants and scholarship programs (West Virginia and D.C. require additional forms). For example, according to FSA and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, last year 12 states — California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia — had their state aid application deadline in the beginning of March 2016 or prior to that. Data from the latest FAFSA High School Completion Tool captured the peak FAFSA filing period for these states in the 2016-17 FAFSA cycle, because it included data up through the end of February 2016. But week 14 of Early FAFSA has yet not captured the peak filing period before this cycle’s deadlines, which could explain why a week-to-week analysis of FAFSA completion rates is lower for the 2017-18 application cycle.

This year, these states continue to set their priority deadline for March or sooner. Tennessee has moved its up to Jan. 17, while Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota switched to “file ASAP after Oct. 1.” In addition, Missouri moved its deadline from April 1 to Feb. 17. As in 2016, it is likely that we will see a spike in FAFSA submissions and completions toward the end of February 2017, as students rush to apply before their state deadline.

There are two states whose FAFSA completions are up this filing period compared to the 2016-17 cycle, which again could be explained by state financial aid deadlines: Utah (up 12 percent) and Kentucky (up 2 percent). Utah’s increase in FAFSA completions, for example, could be related to its new Feb. 1, 2017 priority application deadline. Similarly, Kentucky’s increase may be related to its state aid being disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis. It should be noted that Wyoming also achieved a 4-percent increase in completions, though the deadlines there vary by institution.

Other states that disburse their aid on a first-come, first-served basis have not shown increases in FAFSA completion compared to week 14 of 2016-17: Alaska, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, and Washington. State aid, however, may be running out earlier than last year. Illinois, for example, reached its capacity for the Monetary Award Program (MAP grants) in December. Their award announcements were suspended effective Dec. 22, 2016 — more than a week before the FAFSA’s previous Jan. 1 release date.

As deadlines approach this year and state aid is awarded, NCAN will continue to analyze nationwide FAFSA completion trends.

Correction: This article has been updated to remove Oregon from the group of states with aid disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis. The Oregon Promise Grant and OSAC Private Scholarships have March 1 deadlines. The Oregon Opportunity Grant is awarded first to students with the greatest financial need. Students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible, after Oct. 1, 2016.

Another update removed Arkansas from the group of first-come, first-served states; there, the Academic Challenge Grant and the Higher Education Opportunity Grant have a June 1 deadline. And Alaska was added to the group of first-come, first-served states.

For additional resources visit Form Your Future, NCAN’s national FAFSA completion campaign!

Also, view our newly released #FixFAFSA proposal — a user-tested, faster, easier, and more accurate FAFSA that proves simplification isn’t just a pipe dream!

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