It’s still college application season — which means it’s also time for Washington’s high school seniors to apply for financial aid.
A new online tool gives Washingtonians a window into who has applied so far. The tool, which launched last week and is updated weekly, lets users track how many of the state’s seniors have submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal financial aid, such as the Pell Grant, as well as some state programs. (The tracker doesn’t include data for state-specific financial forms, though.)
Washington has one of the lowest federal financial aid form completion rates in the nation: fewer than half of 2019’s senior class submitted a FAFSA, according to the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), which created the new tool and oversees several state grant programs.
Failing to complete the form can have consequences. Students who don’t are less likely to attend college than those who do. And according to an analysis from WSAC, Washington students left $50 million in federal aid on the table in 2017, at least in part because of how few students sent in FAFSAs.
The form helps determine students’ eligibility for a new state grant, called the Washington College Grant, which covers full or partial tuition to the state’s public colleges for many low- and middle-income families. In Seattle, students can earn free tuition to the city’s community colleges by filling out a short application — and submitting a FAFSA.
So far, about 29,800 students, or 37% of the state’s seniors, have completed the form.
Completion rates vary widely across the state. In Seattle, where in past years students have outperformed statewide averages, 55% of students applied. About 49% of those in Bellevue, 54% in Shoreline and 40% in Highline school districts have submitted forms.
As of Thursday, only nine school districts had completion rates totaling 70% or higher. About 18 school districts reported that fewer than one fifth of their students had filled out the form.
Colleges have their own FAFSA completion deadlines, but Washington encourages students to apply as soon as possible.