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Half of All Undergraduate Students Don't Apply for Aid

October 19, 2004

Half of all undergraduates (approximately 8 million students) in the 1999-2000 academic year failed to apply for financial aid, according to a new issue brief released by the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for Policy Analysis. Missed Opportunities: Students Who Do Not Apply for Financial Aid, reveals that of those undergraduates who did apply for aid, the majority did so after important deadlines, decreasing their likelihood of receiving state and institutional aid.

Utilizing the Department of Education’s National Center on Education Statistics’ National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS): 1999-2000, the brief examines undergraduates that did not complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the standard application used by the federal government, states and most colleges and universities to award financial aid. The study found that 20% of non-filers (approximately 1.7 million students) came from low- and moderate-income families and that half of these 1.7 million students were likely to have been eligible for a Pell Grant. 

Among other findings -- the likelihood of applying for aid varies greatly by the type of institution attended, with students at community colleges far less likely to apply for aid than those attending other types of institutions.  Two-thirds of students attending community colleges did not complete a FASFA in 1999-2000 compared to 42 percent at four-year public institutions and 33 percent of those at private not-for profit colleges and universities. In stark contrast, only 13 percent of students at private for-profit institutions failed to apply. 

The brief suggests that financial aid remains an untapped resource for millions of students who may greatly benefit from financial assistance in getting through college and asserts that no student should miss the opportunity for such assistance due to misinformation, lack of information, or inability to navigate the application process.

The full brief is available as a PDF document on the ACE web site.