The Free Application for Federal Student Aid for the 2020-2021 academic year opens to high school seniors and continuing college students Tuesday.
The FAFSA is required for low-income students to receive Pell Grants from the federal government that can go toward their undergraduate tuition and living expenses. The grant amounts vary, but students attending college this academic year could receive as much as $6,195.
The FAFSA is also required for any current or prospective college student who wants a student loan from the federal government.
Utah has the lowest rate of high school seniors completing the FAFSA of any state in the country.
In the 2018–2019 academic year, about 17,000 of the state’s 48,000 seniors — 35.5% — completed the FAFSA, according to the Form Your Future FAFSA Tracker, produced by the National College Access Network.
Utah students who did not complete the FAFSA left about $34 million in federal Pell Grants on the table, according to materials from United Way of Salt Lake.
Across the country, 56% of seniors completed a FAFSA during 2018-2019. Three states — Illinois, Texas and Louisiana — now require seniors to complete the FAFSA in order to graduate.
Ogden and Clearfield high schools have joined a new network of high schools working together to raise the number of students completing the FAFSA.
The network, which has been organized by United Way of Salt Lake and its Promise Partnership Regional Council, is called the FAFSA Completion Impact and Improvement Network.
As part of the network, schools gather teams that work together to improve FAFSA completion rates at their schools. They also meet with other school teams to share their work and to learn.
According to United Way materials, schools invited to participate in the network have some of the lowest FAFSA completion rates and the highest free and reduced-price lunch rates. Schools must also apply to be part of the network.
“This year, I think we’re being more proactive, and we’re saying, ‘We’re here to help you complete your FAFSA application,’” said Debra Francis, a staff member in Ogden High School’s College and Career Center. “Rather than waiting for them to come to us, I feel like we’re going to them.”
On Friday, Oct. 4, seniors will receive information about the FAFSA as part of Ogden High School’s College Application Week, part of a statewide initiative.
Ogden will also be holding some new kinds of FAFSA events this year to help families complete the application.
On Saturday, Nov. 9, the school will hold a FAFSA breakfast for families to help them fill out the application. A time has not been set for that event.
On Wednesday, Nov. 13, the school will hold a FAFSA fiesta night as part of parent-teacher conferences, where entire families can come and eat dinner, bring all necessary paperwork and get assistance filling out the application.
School staff will also be offering FAFSA support during lunch every Tuesday in November.
Francis said they’re not planning further into the year than this because they want to see how these events go and then adjust based on the feedback they get from students and parents.
The Ogden team will also survey students about the times that work best for them and their families to receive FAFSA assistance.
Clearfield High School is also a participant in the FAFSA Completion network.
Students at Clearfield will apply for their FAFSA ID (username and password), which is necessary to complete the FAFSA, during the school’s College Application Week event on Oct. 10-11, in preparation for a later FAFSA night.
That event to help students and their parents fill out the FAFSA will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2, at Clearfield High School.
There will also be FAFSA events during parent-teacher conferences, said Gloria Whitesides, a counselor at the school.
In addition, the school’s FAFSA team is looking to connect their work to the school’s annual holiday fundraiser, called Falcons are Fabulous, which conveniently share’s part of the FAFSA acronym, Whitesides said.
Whitesides said that her school’s team is looking to figure out what works for their specific community — to be intentional about the approaches that they take. Part of this will include learning more about why families do not fill out the application.
If families don’t apply, Whitesides said, they’re missing a huge opportunity.