What Students and Families Need to Know About The FAFSA

Financial Literacy

Each year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) opens the door for students and families to more than $112 billion in scholarships, grants, state-aid and federal financial aid, and provides information to schools to create financial aid packages. Yet too many families skip completing the FAFSA altogether due to misconceptions about eligibility or a lack of support to complete the form.

According to Sallie Mae’s How America Pays for College 2022 report, while October marks the beginning of the FAFSA® application window, only one-quarter of undergraduate students and parents are aware of that.  Additionally, the College Confidence: What America Knows about Paying for College 2022 report found that only 62% of families with college-bound students plan on completing the form and just 32% of students who will be the first in their family to attend college plan on submitting the FAFSA®. Moreover, just 20% of these students feel prepared to complete the FAFSA®.

Here are five important things to know about the FAFSA®:

1. All students — regardless of family income — should complete the form.

Nearly four in 10 families (36%) said they bypassed the FAFSA® because they believed their income was too high to be eligible, according to the College Confidence report. The reality is, just about every family will qualify for some form of aid. Some of that aid, like scholarships, grants, and state-based aid is offered on a first-come, first served basis so the sooner families can get in line – as close to the Oct. 1 open date for the FAFSA each year – the better.

2. There is no fee to submit the FAFSA®.

Families should never pay to submit the FAFSA®. Filing is free, period. A paid service will not get students more aid. Sallie Mae provides students with free resources to help them fill out their application properly, but they can also check with their high school, local college and financial aid office for assistance.

3. Fill out the “special circumstances” form when financial information changes.

Students and families – including those attending grad school – should complete the FAFSA® every year they are in school. That said, sometimes income and other factors may change due a job loss, medical circumstance, or impact of broad scale events like the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when completing a “special circumstances” form may make sense. The form is available from college financial aid offices and can be helpful in receiving additional aid in these situations.

4. List schools on the FAFSA® even if it’s not a final list.

If students don’t list any colleges on their FAFSA®, then the schools won’t know the student is potentially interested in applying for grant money from them. Students should always list state schools first in case they offer additional state-based aid on a priority basis.

5. There is no age limit.

Federal financial aid is just as available to non-traditional students in the 24 to 35-year-old range as it is to students in their late teens and early twenties. There’s no age limit for receiving federal financial aid—so all students and families should apply!

Submitting the FAFSA® is one of the critical first steps students and families can take to pay for college, and can help make college more affordable.  For help filling of the FAFSA®, check out this comprehensive step-by-step guide.

The Sallie Mae Fund and Thurgood Marshall College Fund Award $250,000 in Scholarships to 25 High School Students

Accountability

Twenty-five diverse and deserving students from across the country received $10,000 to help pay for their higher education through Sallie Mae’s Bridging the Dream Scholarship for High School Seniors. This year’s recipients excel inside and outside the classroom and are attending a diverse set of institutions – state colleges, ivy league universities, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Many of the recipients are also from underrepresented or historically underserved communities who often need additional support to access higher education. 

The Bridging the Dream Scholarship program is part of a $3 million commitment made by The Sallie Mae Fund – in partnership with Thurgood Marshall College Fund – to open doors of higher education for students from all backgrounds. 

In addition to The Bridging the Dream Scholarship for High School Seniors, Sallie Mae also offers The Completing the Dream Scholarship, and The Bridging the Dream Scholarship For Graduate Students. Sallie Mae’s free Scholarship Search tool is also home to more than 6 million scholarships collectively worth $30 billion.

Meet the 25 outstanding students.


2022-2023 Bridging the Dream Scholarship Recipients

Alayah Osullivan

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

College: North Carolina A&T State University

Major/Minor: Biology, Psychology

Fun Fact: First person in her family to graduate high school and attend college

Bridgett Ellis

Hometown: Hamilton, MT

College: University of Montana Western 

Major/Minor: Pre-Veterinary

Fun Fact: Won multiple rodeo titles and wants to specialize in equine dentistry

Chilynn Howard

Hometown: Avon, IN

College: Ball State University

Major/Minor: Fashion Merchandising and Business

Fun Fact: Wants to be an entrepreneur and create a platform for the Black community to discuss mental health

Courtney Exantus

Hometown: Clarksville, TN

College: Middle Tennessee State University 

Major/Minor: Speech-Language Pathology

Fun Fact: Wants to make a difference in the speech-language pathology field, as only 3% of audiologists and speech-language pathologists are African American

Donnell Milton

Hometown: Katy, TX

College: Prairie View A&M University

Major/Minor: Digital Media Arts

Fun Fact: Wants to pursue a career in design, either in animation or video game development

Ebenezer Antwi

Hometown: Smyrna, DE

College: University of Delaware

Major/Minor: Criminology

Fun Fact: Passionate about raising awareness about the school to prison pipeline, and wants to fight for justice in the courtroom one day

Gracie Harmann

Hometown: Racine, WI

College: University of Wisconsin—Whitewater

Major/Minor: Pre-Veterinary, Biology

Fun Fact: Has wanted to become a vet since she was three

Jahni Glover

Hometown: Conyers, GA

College: North Carolina A&T State University

Major: Pre-Medicine, Biology

Fun Fact: Wants to become a pediatric doctor, and joined the Minority Association for Pre-Medical Students (MAPS)

Jiya Sharma

Hometown: Paramus, NJ

College: Seton Hall University

Major/Minor: Pre-medicine, Biology, Medical Humanities

Fun Fact: Wants to pursue a position in the medical field and help people in third-world countries

Joseph Thedford

Hometown: Florissant, MO

College: Jackson State University

Major/Minor: Civil Engineering

Fun Fact: In the marching band

KamDyn Hardin

Hometown: Citrus Heights, CA

College: Louisiana State University

Major/Minor: Business Management

Fun Fact: Wants to pursue a career in entrepreneurship and sports entertainment marketing

Madison Garrett

Hometown: Lindenhurst, NY

College: Columbia University 

Major/Minor: Political Science

Fun Fact: Advocates for Black adolescent mental health and founded her own GenZ magazine

Manyi Ngu

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL

College: University of North Florida

Major/Minor: Graphic Design

Fun Fact: First-generation immigrant from Cameroon

Marisol Deanda

Hometown: Schuyler, NE

College: University of Nebraska—Lincoln

Major/Minor: Nutrition

Fun Fact: Becoming a certified personal trainer

Marisol Mora

Hometown: Burkburnett, TX

College: Midwestern State University

Major/Minor: Nursing

Fun Fact: Wants to become a pediatric nurse practitioner

Morghan Williams

Hometown: Richmond, VA

College: North Carolina A&T State University

Major/Minor: Kinesiology

Fun Fact: Wants to own her own physical therapy practice to help people like her brother, who is autistic.

Tariq Cunningham

Hometown: Fort Washington, MD

College: Bowie State University

Major/Minor: Finance, Accounting, Computer

Fun Fact: Wants to become a CEO of a technology company or bank, and help his community by creating a financial literacy tutoring program and opening a gaming and computer lab

Umulkheir Sharif Ali

Hometown: San Diego, CA

College: University of San Diego

Major/Minor: Psychology, Biomedical Ethics

Fun Fact: From Kenya, and wants to become a physician’s assistant to help underserved communities

Xavier Partee

Hometown: Whitsett, NC

College: North Carolina A&T State University

Major/Minor: Public Relations

Fun Fact: Wants to start a photography business on the side to support himself through college

Zakaria Melton

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

College: North Carolina Central University

Major/Minor: Psychology, African American Studies

Fun Fact: Wants to become a well-renowned therapist with her own practice, focusing on supporting mental health in the African American community

Zion Jackson

Hometown: Verona, PA

College: University of Pittsburgh

Major/Minor: Pre-law, Law and Society, Spanish and Film and Media Studies

Fun Fact: Has several creative hobbies including writing, photography and film that she would like to combine with law to enrich the Black community and cultivate Black minds

Londyn Jefferson

Hometown: Chicago, IL

College: University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

Major/Minor: Engineering, Computer Science

Fun Fact: Part of the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Black Students Union

Dora De La Cruz-Martinez

Hometown: West Liberty, IA

College: St. Ambrose University

Major/Minor: Pre-Law, Spanish

Khierston Nelson

Hometown: Burlington, NC

College: Savannah State University

Major/Minor:  Forensic Biology, Criminology

Daaimah Husein

Hometown: Cincinnati, OH

College: Tennessee State University

Major/Minor: Computer Science

Three Ways to Reduce Student Loan Debt

Accountability

Each year, the amount of student loan debt held by Americans grows. It reached a record-breaking high in 2021 at $1.7 trillion, more than four times its 2005-level of $391 billion

The vast majority — 93% — of this debt is from federal loans. Meaning, less than $1 out of every $10 of student loan debt is a private loan. Without significant changes to the federal student loan program, the debt cycle will continue for students and families.

Here are three policy changes the federal government could enact to reform the student loan system and support students and families who need financial assistance:

1. Meaningfully Increase Pell Grants

Pell Grants provide need-based financial assistance to low-income students to help pay tuition, fees, room and board and other expenses. Since grant funding doesn’t need to be repaid —it’s essentially free money — distributing more funds through the Pell Grant would likely mean these students would take on fewer loans. 

Critically, Pell Grants also ensure that the aid goes to the students who need it most, helping to increase access and make the college funding system more equitable.

2. Simplify the FAFSA®

Seven in 10 (70%) families reported completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) for academic year 2021-22, but three-quarters were unaware the FAFSA® is available starting in October, potentially leaving thousands in first-come, first-served free money on the table, according to “How America Pays for College 2022,” the annual study from Sallie Mae® and Ipsos.

The FAFSA® is the gateway to accessing more than $112 billion in grants, scholarships, and federal financial aid for higher education and states and colleges rely on information from the FAFSA® to determine need-based aid. Six years ago, the Department of Education moved the FAFSA® application start date from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1 to give families more time to complete it and better understand their financial aid eligibility earlier in the college application process. Despite those efforts, 75% of families are still unaware of the Oct. 1 open date, and only a little over half of families (54%) know all students are eligible to submit the FAFSA®. Many families also bypass the FAFSA because they don’t think they’d qualify for aid or find the application to complicated.

Lawmakers recently passed a bill that would simplify the form, but more is needed, including better informing students and families about deadlines to submit the form and debunking the perception that income is the only factor the government uses to decide if a student qualifies for federal financial aid.

3. Increase Loan Transparency

Federal student loans are subjected to less rigorous disclosure requirements than private student loans.  The federal borrowing process could be improved to more clearly inform students and families about their specific borrowing plans.

Sallie Mae, a private lender, offers a variety of tools to ensure responsible lending — including a scholarship search tool and a planning calculator — to help limit the debt students need to take on.