Initial Look at 2018-19 Early FAFSA Data

October 17, 2017

By Shelbe Klebs, Graduate Policy Intern

The 2018-19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened Oct. 1, marking the beginning of the second year of the Early FAFSA. The overall number of high school seniors completing a FAFSA during the first week of availability increased 8 percent overall this year compared to last year, based on data from the FAFSA high school completion tool.

These data include the first week of October 2016 (the beginning of the 2017-18 filing cycle) and the first week of October 2017 (the beginning of the 2018-19 filing cycle). This cycle’s initial increase in submissions and completions could be evidence of the success of Early FAFSA, which made the form available earlier and allowed students and parents to use tax returns from two years prior.

So far in the 2018-19 filing cycle, students have already completed 14,796 more FAFSAs than at this time last year. While we are pleased with this 8-percent increase, there is still a huge difference across states. Completion rates increased by 40 percent or more in six states: Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming. However, completion rates were down by 5 percent or more in eight states: Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. 

We are still in the early days of this filing cycle, so it is important to note that high schools with fewer than five FAFSAs completed do not yet appear in the data set. This can impact total completions, especially in states with a large proportion of small senior classes. 

Broken down by state, the data also reflect how states vary widely in their timeline for awarding financial aid. FAFSA deadlines can strongly affect how and when states encourage students to apply, and certain states have first-come, first-served policies where state financial aid dollars are awarded based on when FAFSAs are submitted. In these states, students need to apply as soon as possible before the financial aid dollars run out. Given that earlier is better, these states’ FAFSA completion rates should at least hold steady over last year. 

Indeed, initial completion rates have increased in Alaska, Illinois, Maryland, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, and Kentucky, although the increases vary widely across these states – for example, Kentucky saw a 1-percent increase, while North Carolina saw a 29-percent increase. However, Washington, Vermont, and Oregon saw their completion rates go down in the first week.   

Other states may have priority deadlines that fall in the spring, so students simply need to submit their FAFSA by their state’s priority date to be eligible for aid. Students unsure of whether their state has a priority deadline or is first-come, first-served should check the FAFSA Priority Deadlines by State tool provided by NCAN member Get Schooled

This is just a first look at the initial data, and it is still very early in the 2018-19 filing cycle. NCAN encourages students and families to complete the FAFSA promptly because it is essential for students to receive financial aid.

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