In the midst of a pandemic that has caused financial hardship for many families, some with soon-to-be college students may have an even harder time figuring out how to afford their education.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one method college students can use to reduce their overall debt load, but new findings show that not many families are talking about it.
According to the latest survey from digital banking and payment services Discover, 29% of parents with college-bound students have never talked to their child about the FAFSA, while another 22% have only done so once or twice.
Families struggle with misinformation about the FAFSA application
Despite a recent T. Rowe Price survey indicating that families are talking about money more than ever before, it seems that many are reluctant to talk about the FAFSA — perhaps in part because they feel they lack enough knowledge to do so.
In fact, only 37% of parent respondents say they're very familiar with the FAFSA and expect to submit it this year. However, the Discover survey revealed that 31% of those who planned to complete the application had yet to do so in May 2021 — a mere month before the June deadline.
This may be due to a variety of factors, as the survey found that:
- 51% of families think the FAFSA is available year-round
- Only 20% of families know the FAFSA becomes available in October
- 36% of parents believe it takes one to three hours to complete the FAFSA application
In reality, though, the U.S. Department of Education notes that most applicants are able to fill out and submit their FAFSA application in less than an hour.
In some cases, the general lack of information around FAFSA is stopping families from even applying: 42% of families with no plans of submitting a FAFSA application believe they won't qualify for federal aid, although numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed otherwise — 86% of first-time, full-time students at four-year institutions received financial aid during the 2018-2019 academic year.
Financial aid a cause of stress for 30% of college applicants
The Discover survey shows that conversations about FAFSA and other forms of financial aid are important ones for cash-strapped families to have, as The Princeton Review found that nearly all of this year's college applicants will need some form of financial aid to help pay for their education.
This may also relieve some of the pressures that college applicants are feeling, as Discover found that nearly a third of respondents (30%) say that applying for financial aid is giving their child anxiety.
"When it comes to financing a college education, the earlier families can start saving and having those discussions, the better," says Manny Chagas, vice president of Discover Student Loans.
"The same goes for the FAFSA. Applying early can give families opportunities for federal, state and institutional aid like grants and scholarships as some schools award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis."
To better help their children with the process, some families are taking advantage of:
- Online FAFSA guides and resources (50%)
- Materials sent from a child's school (29%)
- High school guidance counselors (28%)
Methodology: On behalf of Discover Financial Services, Dynata conducted an online survey of 1,000 U.S. parents of college-bound students (ages 16-18) from May 10-15, 2021.