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Why students do not apply for financial aid

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Written by Adren Setian
Updated: November 28, 2022
4 min read
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The US Department of Education recently commissioned a broad-based study to determine why undergraduate college students do not apply for financial aid.

The data from the study was assembled visa vi the National Postsecondary Aid Study (NPSAS:12) and includes information about a variety of financial aid package types including grants, scholarships, loans, assistantships, fellowships, tuition waivers, employer aid, veterans benefits, tuition discounts, and a variety of other monies used in conjunction with expenses related to college.

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Number of College Students Who Do Not Apply For Financial Aid

In aggregate, what percentage of full-time and part-time undergraduates did not apply for financial aid?

Fully 20% of all students surveyed did not apply for aid related to their higher education. Seventy percent filed for financial aid to help offset the costs associated with college and 10% of students applied for nonfederal aid only.

What percentage of undergraduate students failed to apply for financial aid at public 2-year colleges and universities?

A whopping 30% of undergraduate students at public 2-year colleges did not apply for financial aid. Nine percent of undergraduate students at public 2-year colleges applied for nonfederal aid only thus leaving 61% applying for aid.

financial aid for college students

What percentage of undergraduates attending a public 4-year college applied for financial aid?

Seventy-one percent of undergraduate students attending a 4-year public college or university applied for financial aid with 10% filing for nonfederal aid only. The remainder of the 19% of undergraduates attending a public 4-year university failed to apply for any college aid.

What percentage of undergraduate students failed to apply for financial aid at private non-profit 4-year colleges?

Just 11% of undergraduate students attending a private non-profit 4-year college failed to apply for aid. Fourteen percent applied for non-federal aid which left 76% of undergraduate students at private non-profit 4-year colleges that did apply for aid.

What percentage of undergraduates attending a for-profit college or university applied for financial aid?

Fully 87% of undergraduate students attending a for-profit college or university applied for aid. Just 8% of the undergraduates surveyed by the NPSAS applied for nonfederal aid only leaving a scant 5% of students not applying for financial aid at for-profit colleges.

students apply for financial aid

Common Reasons College Students Forgo Financial Aid

There are five primary reasons why undergraduates did not apply for aid that we will cover. The most common reason students did not apply for aid was cited as could afford college without aid. This reason was cited by 51% of undergraduates who did not apply for aid at public 4-year institutions and 49% of students attending private non-profit 4-year and for-profit schools.

The next most common reason students did not apply for aid was that they believe they were ineligible. Of all the college and university institution types listed in the survey, the percentage of students citing that they were ineligible ranges from 43%-46%.

The third reason most cited for not applying for aid was that students did not want debt. Of the respondents in the survey, fully 37% of undergraduate students at public 4-year colleges and 33% of students from public 2-year institutions cited debt and loans as limiting factors for applying for aid. Twenty-five percent of undergraduate students at private nonprofit 4-year schools and 21% of those attending a for-profit college cited debt as the primary reason for not pursuing aid.

The fourth reason students did not apply for aid was rooted in a lack of information on how to apply. Overall, just 13% of undergraduate students that responded to the NPSAS survey were unable to find information on the process to apply for aid for their education expenses.

The final reason cited by undergraduate students for not applying for aid was the forms were too much work. A paltry 9% of all respondents from public 2-year, public 4-year, private nonprofit 4-year, and for-profit institutions did not apply for aid as it was too much work for them to complete the necessary steps such as the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

free application for federal student aid FAFSA

Applying for Financial Aid

If you are considering your options for paying for your higher education expenses, we strongly encourage students to take the time to fill out the FAFSA forms early in the calendar year and invest in themselves by completing any/all necessary forms to get help paying for their education.

FAFSA completion is one of the most important steps in acquiring aid, and filling out the FAFSA is often a requirement to qualify and become eligible for other types of aid, such as scholarships. The investment will be worth the work!

Don't forget appealing your financial aid package can potentially unlock additional resources to support your educational aspirations.

For additional resources, make sure to visit additional financial aid publications such as What is FAFSA?, Finding College Scholarships, How is a student loan different from a scholarship? and more which can be found on Bold.org's blog.

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Create a Bold.org profile and use the scholarship search feature to access hundreds of exclusive scholarships. The process is easy and there are hundreds of scholarships available to help provide aid for students like yourself. There are scholarships on Bold.org available for many different majors, and there are also need-based and merit-based scholarships among many other categories. You can also read the Bold.org blog for more articles like this one.

Adren Setian

About Adren

Adren has always loved writing both fiction and nonfiction, always with the intention to help other people. At Bold.org, she loves being a specialist who works to help students reduce their student debt and make financially wise decisions about the future of their education. 

Past experience that informs Adren’s expertise includes working with the Education and Employment Team of Catholic Social Services Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services. Being a research assistant analyzing data for research projects at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Several years as the Assistant Manager of an Equine Education program where responsibilities included creating and developing curriculums. Time spent volunteering as the Vice President and Senior Graphic Designer for the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Psychology Club and Psi Chi Honor Society chapter with the goal of furthering students’ professional skills and knowledge of the field of Psychology and building a sense of community.

Adren would like to end her introduction with a land acknowledgement relevant to Anchorage, Alaska, her hometown and place of residence: “Dena'inaq ełnen'aq' gheshtnu ch'q'u yeshdu. (Dena'ina)” [I live and work on the land of the Dena’ina. (English)] — Translated by Joel Isaak and Sondra Stuart

Adren is no longer with the Bold.org Writing Team, but we continue to value and appreciate her contributions.

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