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|National FAFSA Completion Rates for High School Seniors and Graduates|
Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the best predictors of whether a high school senior will go on to college, as seniors who complete the FAFSA are 84% more likely to immediately enroll in postsecondary education. For students in the lowest socioeconomic quintile, FAFSA completion is associated with a 127% increase in immediate college enrollment. Given the impact that applying for financial aid has on college-going, encouraging students to complete this form is a priority for the National College Access Network and our members. NCAN encourages members to track FAFSA completion among their students, and as such tracks the percentage of high school seniors who complete the application by graduation day.
High school seniors who complete the FAFSA by graduation day – which NCAN designates as June 30 to cover a variety of end dates nationwide – are more likely to make a thoughtful and informed decision about where they enroll for higher education with the assistance of a college access advisor, school counselor, teacher, or other administrator.
Using the most recent data available, NCAN calculated that the current nationwide FAFSA completion rate for high school graduates is 61 percent. That’s seven percentage points higher than the 2015-16 rate, and significantly higher than the 44-percent rate that was previously reported by NCAN using a different data set (more on that below). Below, find two tables, one for the FAFSA completion rates of 12th grade students and one for the FAFSA completion rates for high school graduates.
NCAN gathered this data from the FAFSA Data by Demographic Characteristics for several years, but then the U.S. Education Department's Office of Federal Student Aid made an adjustment to another data source, the High School FAFSA Completion Tool. This change, made April 14, 2017, moved the birthday cut-off for seniors so that older seniors previously left out of data sets would now be included. The new age filter created a more accurate way to measure high school senior data completion which led NCAN to determine that that using the Completion Tool for these calculations is the most accurate way to measure the percentage of high school seniors completing a FAFSA.
This page will serve as a standing page to report the trend of nationwide FAFSA completion rates as of June 30 each year.
Prior to NCAN’s decision to change our data source to the Completion Tool, we calculated the completion rate through graduation by looking at 18-year-olds who completed the FAFSA by June 30, as reported in the Demographic Characteristics report. Based on these calculations, NCAN reported the FAFSA completion rate for high school seniors as 44 percent for the last several years using age as a proxy for high school seniors. With updates to the birthday filters in the Completion Tool, that tool is now the most accurate way to report that rate. Because a long trend of FAFSA completion rates is not available using the new, more accurate measure, NCAN provides the 18 year-old FAFSA completion rates for reference and historical context.