Fewer Pennsylvanians are applying for student aid: How you can file a FAFSA

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

State educators are alarmed at the rate of student aid applications that have dropped in recent months — and what that could mean for college enrollment for lower-income students.

Students and their families must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form "as soon as possible" in order to qualify for student aid funding, officials said.

The federal FAFSA deadline is June 30, although various state and local aid programs have earlier deadlines.

Nearly 31,000 fewer Pennsylvania students have submitted the 2022-23 FAFSA application since it became available last October — a 10.4% decline from last ye, according to state data.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, attributed the decline to continued uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and fewer students enrolling in college. 

"That's why it's so important for us to call attention to FAFSA today," Fontana said. "History shows us that higher education can have a lifelong positive impact on the individual's health and financial wellbeing." 

As college students around the country graduate with a massive amount of debt, advocates display a hand-painted signs and messages on the Ellipse in front of The White House to call on President Joe Biden to sign an executive order to cancel student debt  on June 15, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We The 45 Million/TNS)

The FAFSA is a free, federal form that must be completed for students to be considered for federal and state student aid. This includes the need-based state grant program, which is administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.

Individuals who still need to complete a FAFSA form can visit www.pheaa.org/.

Applications opened on Oct. 1, although individual financial aid deadlines will vary by  school, state or program of study, according to PHEAA.

Meanwhile, the deadline for the Pennsylvania State Grant is May 1. This grant is eligible to first-time applicants who plan to enroll in a degree program or a college transferable program at a junior college or other college or university. 

The grant also applies to applicants who have changes that may affect their State Grant award, such as a change in marital status or income, according to PHEAA.

Applicants of the Pennsylvania State Grant who plan to enroll in a community college, technical school, hospital school or 2-year program that is not transferable have a deadline of Aug. 1.

"Remember, it all begins with the FAFSA," Fontana said. 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.