The percentage of college-bound students applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid has increased slightly, from 68% in 2020-21 to 70% in 2021-22, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos, an analytics company. However an even larger portion, 75%, were unaware the FAFSA application window starts in October.
The report said FAFSA "remains confusing for students and families."
Just over half of families, or 54%, are aware all students are eligible to submit an application, while a quarter believed it’s only for students from low-income households, and 36% of families said their income was too high.
"When it comes to building awareness, it really is an all hands on deck approach," said Rick Castellano, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae, a bank that provides student loans and published the report, in a statement. "We should all be focused on this issue if we want to make sure students and families who are eligible for 'free money' — like scholarships and grants — are getting in line for it, and doing so early."
Castellano said the lack of awareness also "speaks to a broader conversation about introducing financial education topics earlier to students and families."
"Some schools have already begun to do just that," Castellano said. "In fact, some states are implementing or considering implementing requirements for high school seniors to file the FAFSA."
Only about half, or 49%, of all families surveyed, support states requiring high school seniors to file the FAFSA, and 13% express opposition.
A few states already require students to fill out the FAFSA. In the 2021-22 school year, Texas became the second state, after Louisiana, to put the requirement in place. Research suggests that students who fill out the FAFSA are more likely to attend college. Louisiana, for example, experienced a 6% increase in higher education enrollment after it required graduating seniors to complete the FAFSA.