By Divya Raghavan
As the last FAFSA deadlines approach, students with unusual family circumstances struggle to complete their applications to help fund their college degree. Some may have lived outside their home on their own, some may have LGBT parents, and some have to deal with tricky immigration statuses. In response, NerdScholar released a FAFSA Guide to help these students with unusual family circumstances.
An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year. Although by law these students receive a public school education up until the twelfth grade, their futures beyond high school are uncertain.
Not only are students unable to pursue a college degree due to financial or legal restraints, some have parents who are immigrants or are undocumented students themselves.
The FAFSA is an enormous barrier for undocumented students as well as students with undocumented parents. Even though undocumented students cannot access federal financial aid funds, many universities require that all students applying for aid fill out the FAFSA so the university has a standardized report of each student’s financial situation and can calculate an expected family contribution number (EFC) to determine aid packages.
Unfortunately, many undocumented students and parents are afraid of putting their information into the federal government’s hands, and so many undocumented students do not apply for aid at all as a result.
As we get approach and pass FAFSA deadlines, these students will need help with their financial aid forms. This new FAFSA guide will help students with nontraditional families navigate the FAFSA, and give step-by-step instructions for undocumented immigrants as well as documented students with undocumented parents.
As the American family unit evolves and demographics continue to change,it becomes increasingly important to ensure that all students are able to apply for financial aid, regardless of their family or financial situation.
First-year college students who apply for financial aid are 72% more likely to stay in school than those who are eligible but do not apply.
NerdScholar seeks to empower and enable these students with their new FAFSA Guide.
Divya Raghavan is a Strategy Analyst at NerdScholar, dedicated to empower students with financial literacy tools and scholarship for Hispanics.
The June 30th deadline this article refers to is not accurate. Most states have their own deadline, some have no deadline, and 7 states posted their FAFSA deadline as being ‘as close to January 1st as possible’ out of concern they would run out of funds.
Each academic year the FAFSA window actually stays open for 18 months starting January 1. With most aid awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, everyone is encouraged to prepare their FAFSA as close to January 1 as possible. There is no need to wait until your parents’ income tax form (and your own) is filed. Use estimates of income on the FAFSA to hold your place in the virtual line for aid and once tax forms are submitted, update your FAFSA. Speed and accuracy are essential to preparing a FAFSA. Students have two preparation options – either prepare it yourself (at no cost) on the US Dept. of Education’s website OR get help from a fee-based FAFSA preparation service. The nation’s largest and oldest service, Student Financial Aid Services http://www.fafsa.com offers its service free to thousands of students from low-income households each year. Its student aid advisors offer FAFSA help in Spanish and many Asian languages. Because of the form’s complexity (130 asset, income and dependency questions) many students value using a fee-based service to ensure accuracy and meeting deadlines. FAFSA mistakes can reduce an aid award.
Here are state deadlines: http://www.fafsa.com/fafsa-deadlines/fafsa-state-deadlines. By the way, the 18-month FAFSA window exists to help students whose financial circumstances get worse during an academic year – say a parent’s job is eliminated.
Everyone should prepare a FAFSA, there is $236 Billion in aid available for more than 17 million students. Financial aid, available to nearly all students regardless of income, can cut students’ out-of-pocket college costs and post-graduation debt, which averages $26,600 for undergraduates. Undergraduates on average secured $13,218 in aid last year, including free grants, federal education loans, and work-study.
Preparing a FAFSA pays off in another significant way for first-time college students. A 2011 study, published by the Journal of Student Financial Aid, showed first-year students who submit a FAFSA are 72% more likely to persist in college than students who do not file the aid application. Preparing a FAFSA is even more significant for lower-income students who are eligible for free Pell Grants. They are 122% more likely to remain in college compared to students who do not submit a FAFSA, according to research by Lyle McKinney, Ph.D., assistant professor of higher education at the University of Houston, and Heather Novak, statistical analyst for the Office of Institutional Research at Colorado State University.
The author of the piece submitted an update to clarify the FAFSA deadlines.