In 2022, high school graduates missed the deadline to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and left millions of dollars in college aid unclaimed. According to a January analysis from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), 44% of 2022’s high school graduates did not complete the FAFSA. This meant that eligible students left behind $3.58 Billion in Pell Grant money.

Pell Grants are the most popular federal grant program for undergraduates in the United States. The average award to 2022 high school students who were eligible was $4,686, according to NCAN. Pell Grants don’t need to be repaid. They are free money.

However, there are some caveats to this report. FAFSA non-completion percentages were calculated based on all students in 2022 high school. This assumes that all these students want to go to college. The FAFSA is not available to everyone. For example, students who aren’t legally documented are usually not eligible for federal college aid.

Despite the class of 2022’s high 44% FAFSA national noncompletion rate, it is a significant improvement over 2021 (the report’s debut), when 46% of students opted to skip the application. This resulted in an estimated $3.75 billion in Pell Grants.

These findings highlight the need to increase demand for higher education. Bill DeBaun is NCAN’s senior director, data strategic initiatives.

DeBaun says, “The overall message is that there is slack at the postsecondary pipeline.” “We don’t connect all students with financial aid that is available.

The FAFSA is required to get federal, state, and school-based loans, grants, and aid. This includes Pell Grants, work study options, and private scholarships. The FAFSA is required for anyone who plans to pursue higher education. This application is valid for all types of universities, even community colleges.

Rebound for college-bound

This slight decline in FAFSA completion percentages is part of a larger story about college applications and attendance rebounding following a slump.

Although college freshman enrollment has been steadily increasing, it is still below the 2019 levels. According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, freshman enrollment increased by 4.3% in the fall 2022 compared to the fall 2021. This is almost 100,000 more students.

According to admissions applications, this number is expected to rise in the coming year. Nearly 1.1 million students applied for college in the year 2023. This is a 20% increase over the 2019-2020 cycle according to Common App. Common App is a non-profit membership organization of universities that facilitates application. Underrepresented minorities applicants increased by 30%, while first-generation applicants increased 35 %.

Not all states are equal

State-by-state, the percentage of high school graduates who did not complete the FAFSA varied greatly.

At 65%, 62%, and 57% respectively, Alaska, Utah, and Oklahoma had the highest 2022 completion rates. The lowest noncompletion rates were found in Washington, D.C. (26%), Tennessee (29%), and Louisiana (31%).

DeBaun says that discrepancies could be explained by state policy decisions. Louisiana, for example, was the first state to require FAFSA completion as a requirement for high school graduation. This change took effect in 2017-2018 academic year. However, students can still get around it by getting their parents to sign waivers. Tennessee promises to offer community or technical college for all high school graduates. However, eligibility is dependent on completing the FAFSA.

Aid deadlines vary

FAFSA participation rates not shown in NCAN’s analysis may change as the 2022 high school class still has time to complete it

The 2022-2023 applications will be open until June 30, 2023. Students enrolled in college may still be eligible for federal aid throughout the current academic year. This includes Pell Grants, direct loans, and so on, according to Jill Desjean (a senior policy analyst at National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators).

For students to be eligible for other types, aid, however, state and university deadlines are often earlier than the FAFSA deadlines. For 2022 high school graduates, many of these deadlines have expired.

The FAFSA should be completed as soon as it opens to ensure that you are ready for the academic year in which your college plans. The FAFSA opened Oct. 1, 2022 for the school year 2023-2024.

Desjean advises that “the earlier you file the better but students who miss a deadline should not give up,” says Desjean. “Especially for schools, [students] may be able request an exception to the deadline .”