Question: How much free financial aid is lost to families who do not file the FAFSA?

Oct 18, 2017
Paying for College, Article, Student Loans, Question of the Day

Answer: $2.3 billion

The confluence of FAFSA season upon us (you could file beginning on October 1st) and our team working on an upcoming Question of the Day release is what led to the question that is the subject of this post. 

From Quartz

The US government awards federal, state, and institutional money every year to students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and meet certain household-income qualifications. But if students don’t complete or submit the form, they don’t stand a chance at getting any of it. According to a new analysis from personal finance site NerdWallet, the high school class of 2017 collectively left $2.3 billion in free federal grant money for college on the table.

By looking at data supplied by the US Education Department and the Florida College Access Network, NerdWallet found that 1,234,249 high school students didn’t fill out the FAFSA in the 2016-2017 academic year—though roughly 50% of students actually qualified for Pell Grants, a type of federal aid awarded to low-income households that does not need to be repaid in the future. Pell’s maximum payout is around $6,000, and Pell-eligible students missed out on an average grant size of $3,583. That brings the total forgotten amount to $2,319,016,315.


  1. What is the FAFSA and why is it important?
  2. What are some of the reasons that people don’t file the FAFSA?
  3. When do you plan to file the FAFSA?


Looking for more great resources to help your students navigate the college financing process. Check out NGPF's Paying for College resources




About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.