Now, less than 50% of high school seniors in Georgia apply for federal aid. In fact, Georgia is ranked 45th in the percentage of Free Application for Federal Student Aid Form completions.
Photo: Associated Press
Photo: Associated Press

Opinion: Too few Georgia students fill out critical application for college aid

Jessica Johnson is founder and executive director of the Scholarship Academy, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income/first-generation families create four- year college funding plans. 

In this guest column, she urges college-bound Georgia students and their families to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, better known as FAFSA. The form is used by schools to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid.

Johnson is a past chair of the Fulton County Office of Workforce Development’s Youth Council. She is a member of the Georgia GEAR UP Leadership Team, and an Inaugural member of the Atlanta Youth Commission. 

By Jessica Johnson

No, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA will not automatically enlist you in the draft. Last week, prospective college students around the country started a social media frenzy over the student demographic section of the FAFSA, which states that males must register with the Selective Service System. Many students quickly assumed this meant in addition to being considered for federal student aid, they were also being considered for…war.

When the smoke cleared, it became apparent the FAFSA may be unfairly singled out. Under the Selective Service Act of 1917, all male U.S. citizens are required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Penalties include possible fines, imprisonment and loss of benefits like federal financial aid.

But perhaps the bigger question is, why don’t families, who are months away from sending their students off to college, already know this information??

The truth is, before all the draft hype, Georgia students were already struggling with the FAFSA process. Now, less than 50% of high school seniors in Georgia apply for federal aid. 

In fact, Georgia ranks 45th in the percentage of FAFSA completions. With most institutional FAFSA deadlines a little over a month away, we cannot afford to allow “myths” to deter students from receiving their fair share of college funding. 

There are a host of reasons that filling out the FAFSA form should be important to Georgia families. First, it’s bigger than the form itself. Most people immediately associate the FAFSA form with federal aid, but it really is an entryway to all college funding opportunities. Colleges use the FAFSA to fully analyze student eligibility for institutional aid and offer opportunities such as federal work-study. 

Additionally, the FAFSA form provides families with an educated snapshot of their ability to afford college. After completing the FAFSA form, families receive a Student Aid Report, which highlights the Expected Family Contribution.

Jessica Johnson

Knowing this eliminates surprises and provides families with true insight into financial gaps prior to picking out dorm room décor. The report is also often used by outside scholarships because it helps validate the applicants’ financial need.

But by far the most critical reason that Georgia families should be more knowledgeable about the FAFSA is because it is one of the applications that can be used to receive and keep Georgia HOPE Scholarship dollars and other state-based aid. The Georgia Student Finance Commission allows students to submit their FAFSA form as one of the acceptable documents to qualify for HOPE.

If the requirements alone are not enough, data from the National Center of Education Statistics suggests 90% of high school FAFSA completers enroll directly in a postsecondary program. 

Organizations like the United Way of Greater Atlanta’s College Bound Initiative and the Scholarship Academy understand the urgent linkage between college completion and on-time FAFSA Submission. The College Bound Initiative has launched a regional FAFSA submission effort that is designed to provide on-the-spot FAFSA submissions for families in high-need communities. 

On Saturday, hundreds of Atlanta metropolitan students will have an opportunity to submit the FAFSA form on the spot at the “I Am College Bound Event.” To learn more about how to connect families to this critical first step in the college funding process, click here.  

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.