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LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

Americans on Pace to File 22% Fewer FAFSAs for 2023-24 Academic Year

Published on:
Content was accurate at the time of publication.

Students looking for federal student aid — from student loans and scholarships to grants and work-study jobs — must submit Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms annually to determine their eligibility. However, the latest LendingTree study found that FAFSA submissions in the 2023-24 academic year are on pace to be 21.6% lower than in the 2021-22 academic year.

Here’s what we found — and why students need to submit their FAFSAs ASAP.

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Key findings

  • The number of FAFSA submissions in the 2023-24 academic year is on pace to be 21.6% lower than in the 2021-22 academic year. Notably, the 32.5% drop-off from independent students is more pronounced than the 14.5% dip from dependent students.
  • Most of that drop-off happened between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years. There were 2.3% more submissions in the first three months of the 2023-24 cycle than in the first three months of the 2022-23 cycle. Recovery from dependent and independent students was equitable at 2.2% and 2.6%, respectively.
  • Yet FAFSA submissions from high school students were 19.4% higher in the first six months of the 2023-24 academic year cycle than in the first six months of the 2021-22 cycle. In addition, they were 10.0% higher than in the first six months of the 2022-23 cycle. (FAFSA submission data from individual high school students extends through the second quarter — January through March 2023 — of the 2023-24 academic year cycle.)
  • Alaska is on pace to have the biggest drop-off in FAFSA submissions for the coming academic year compared to two years prior, at 33.8% less in the first quarter. Washington state and New Hampshire followed with dips of 30.3% and 30.1%, respectively. Submissions from independent students in New Hampshire were down 49.0% in that same period, while Alaska’s drop from dependent students was 25.8%, the largest fall-offs among the states.
  • Texas has seen the biggest boom in FAFSA submissions from high school students — 32.0% higher in the first six months of the 2023-24 academic cycle than in the 2021-22 cycle. Alabama and California followed with jumps of 23.2% and 19.8%, respectively. Only four states saw a decrease in FAFSA submissions from high school students during that same period: Vermont (2.1%), Hawaii (1.7%), Alaska (1.3%) and New York (0.4%).
Independent vs. dependent students: The difference (and why it matters)

A student’s dependency status (whether dependent or independent) determines whose information is reported on the FAFSA form — and how much aid they can receive.

Dependent students report their information and their parents’ information, as it’s assumed they have financial support from their parents. Meanwhile, independent students report only their own information (and their spouse’s if they’re married).

How you answer certain questions on your FAFSA form will determine your dependency status. Federal Student Aid has a full list of the questions on the 2023-24 form.

FAFSA submissions are on pace to be 21.6% lower for the upcoming academic year

Students who want to be considered for federal student loans must complete a FAFSA application. This can create eventual paths to student loan forgiveness, whether through an existing program like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) or a future forgiveness plan like the one in front of the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June on legal challenges to the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan, potentially ending uncertainty for those with federal student debt.)

With various federal forgiveness options and flexible repayment terms, it makes sense to maximize your federal student loan eligibility before considering private lenders. Despite this assumption, FAFSA submissions for the 2023-24 academic year (through the first three months of the 21-month application cycle) are trending toward being 21.6% lower than in the 2021-22 academic year.

Important: The FAFSA has a 21-month submission cycle. In addition to submitting your application during the full academic year, you have additional time starting in the prior October. For example, FAFSA applications for the 2023-24 academic year can be submitted from Oct. 1, 2022, through June 30, 2024. Note that college, state and federal deadlines can vary, so not every student can submit in the full 21-month window. College and state deadlines could be very early in the period.

That dip is different depending on the filer. FAFSA submissions are on pace to fall 14.5% for dependent students, while independent students are set to see a 32.5% drop-off.

According to LendingTree student loan expert Michael Kitchen, that difference may boil down to differences in education levels.

“Although some undergrads are independent (married students, students who were in foster care as children, adult students, students who served in the military, etc.), most are dependents,” he says. “Graduate students, on the other hand, are all considered independent by the federal government. So when we see a difference between dependent and independent FAFSA applications, it might be at least partly about the relative numbers of undergrad and graduate students.”

Change in FAFSA submissions

Academic yearsTotalDependent studentsIndependent students
2021-22 to 2022-23 (one-year change)-23.4%-16.4%-34.2%
2022-23 to 2023-24 (one-year change)2.3%2.2%2.6%
2021-22 to 2023-24 (two-year change)-21.6%-14.5%-32.5%

Source: LendingTree analysis of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data reported by the Department of Education. Note: Data is from the first quarter of each application cycle, covering October through December of the previous calendar year.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, fall 2022 enrollment among graduate students fell faster year over year than among undergraduate students — 1.2% versus 0.6%, respectively. This could be related to rising costs for a graduate education as well as a stronger economy, which can encourage those with a bachelor’s degree to jump into the job market rather than return for more school.

Regardless of who’s seeing the biggest drop-off and why, most of the key declines happened between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years. In the first three months of the 2023-24 academic year, there were 2.3% more applications than in the first three months of the 2022-23 cycle — painting a far different portrait.

While submissions from dependent students rose by 2.2% in that one-year period, submissions from independent students rose similarly at 2.6%.

FAFSA submissions from high school students rose

Despite the overall decrease in FAFSA submissions over the past two years, it’s worth noting that applications from high school students rose.

In fact, they were 19.4% higher in the first six months of the 2023-24 academic year cycle than the first six months of the 2021-22 cycle. They also rose 10.0% compared to the first six months of the 2022-23 cycle. (As a reminder, our high school-specific data looks at a six-month period because the data is available through the second quarter — versus one quarter with the overall data highlighted earlier.)

Changes in FAFSA submissions among high school students

Academic years% change
2022-23 to 2023-24 (one-year change)10.0%
2021-22 to 2023-24 (two-year change)19.4%

Source: LendingTree analysis of FAFSA data reported by the Department of Education. Note: Data is from the first two quarters of each application cycle, covering October through December of the previous calendar year and January through March of the initial academic year.

Despite weaker enrollment among undergraduate and graduate students, interest in college among high school students seems to be rebounding from the height of the COVID-19 period, Kitchen says.

“When the pandemic was a much larger threat, there was a sharp drop in overall college enrollment,” he says. “Some of this may have been due to economic anxiety or a rise in the popularity of careers that don’t require a degree.”

Which states are set to have the biggest drop-off in FAFSA submissions?

Some states are on track to have steeper drops in FAFSA submissions than others. Most notably, Alaska is on pace to have the biggest decline — 33.8% — in the first application quarter of the 2023-24 academic year compared to two years prior (2021-22).

In Alaska, undergraduate enrollment has declined yearly since 2018, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. This could contribute to the state having the biggest dip in FAFSA applications filed by dependent students between the 2021-22 and 2023-24 application cycles.

Following that, Washington state (30.3%) and New Hampshire (30.1%) had the largest declines. More specifically, FAFSA forms from independent students in New Hampshire fell by nearly half (49.0%) in that same period — the largest independent student decline of any state. In New Hampshire, graduate enrollment (remember, graduate students are considered independent for FAFSA purposes) dipped 4.7% year over year in 2022.

Full rankings

States with the biggest 2-year changes in FAFSA applications filed in the first 3 months of the 2021-22 and 2023-24 application cycles

RankStateDependent studentsIndependent studentsAll students
1Alaska-25.8%-40.6%-33.8%
2Washington-22.1%-39.7%-30.3%
3New Hampshire-20.9%-49.0%-30.1%
4District of Columbia-16.3%-43.7%-29.6%
5Michigan-21.5%-36.6%-27.9%
5Oregon-20.5%-36.8%-27.9%
7Georgia-21.2%-35.4%-27.6%
8Arkansas-22.0%-33.9%-27.5%
9Florida-20.3%-34.7%-26.8%
10Massachusetts-17.9%-43.3%-26.1%
10New York-19.9%-38.5%-26.1%
12Utah-8.7%-40.3%-25.5%
13South Dakota-18.2%-37.6%-25.2%
14Minnesota-16.3%-41.4%-24.9%
15Montana-15.5%-37.0%-24.8%
16Tennessee-19.2%-32.7%-24.5%
17Colorado-15.5%-35.3%-24.3%
18North Dakota-15.5%-35.0%-24.0%
18Wyoming-12.9%-35.2%-24.0%
20Vermont-18.3%-36.2%-23.9%
21Maine-17.4%-34.5%-23.8%
22California-15.1%-33.8%-23.3%
23Maryland-14.0%-36.8%-23.1%
24Ohio-15.8%-33.7%-22.7%
25Idaho-12.4%-34.8%-22.5%
26Wisconsin-16.0%-34.0%-22.3%
27Alabama-15.6%-29.9%-22.1%
28Louisiana-14.9%-30.3%-21.9%
29Nevada-15.9%-28.6%-21.8%
30Delaware-14.2%-32.9%-21.6%
31Mississippi-12.8%-30.9%-21.1%
32Nebraska-14.2%-35.8%-21.0%
32West Virginia-17.5%-25.0%-21.0%
34Hawaii-16.4%-28.1%-20.9%
34Indiana-15.4%-28.7%-20.9%
36Missouri-16.4%-27.5%-20.7%
37North Carolina-14.3%-29.5%-20.6%
38Virginia-13.1%-31.3%-20.3%
39Illinois-14.5%-32.2%-20.1%
40Arizona-11.4%-29.7%-20.0%
40Connecticut-13.1%-34.0%-20.0%
42New Mexico-16.5%-23.4%-19.9%
43New Jersey-14.1%-33.3%-19.8%
44Pennsylvania-13.2%-31.5%-19.4%
45South Carolina-15.0%-24.1%-18.8%
46Kansas-11.7%-29.4%-18.2%
47Iowa-14.7%-25.5%-17.8%
48Kentucky-15.9%-19.3%-17.4%
49Oklahoma-8.9%-20.1%-13.9%
50Rhode Island-10.3%-12.2%-11.0%
51Texas1.1%-26.5%-10.2%

Source: LendingTree analysis of FAFSA data reported by the Department of Education. Note: Data is from the first quarter of each application cycle, covering October through December of the previous calendar year.

Here’s which states had the biggest booms in FAFSA forms from high school students

When it comes to FAFSA forms from high school students, Texas is set to see the biggest boom. Applications here were 32.0% higher in the first six months of the 2023-24 academic year cycle than in 2021-22.

“The jump in college applications among Texans might be related to the booming economy there,” Kitchen says. “Texas’ gross domestic product (GDP) grew faster than that of any other state during the last quarter of 2022.”

Alabama (23.2%) and California (19.8%) had the next highest jumps. Still, those numbers may change: Data for FAFSA applications from individual high school students extends through the second quarter (January through March 2023) of the 2023-24 academic year’s cycle. That means this data covers October through December 2022 and January through March 2023.

For California, this jump could be due to new requirements. Starting in the 2022-23 academic cycle, California high school students are required to submit a FAFSA application or an opt-out waiver. (Alabama has similar legislation, though students have been required to submit a FAFSA application since the 2021-22 academic year).

In that same period, only four states saw a decrease in submissions from high school students: Vermont (2.1%), Hawaii (1.7%), Alaska (1.3%) and New York (0.4%).

Full rankings

States with the biggest increases in FAFSA applications filed by high school students in the first 6 months of the 2021-22 and 2023-24 application cycles

RankStateHigh school students
1Texas32.0%
2Alabama23.2%
3California19.8%
4Louisiana15.1%
5Mississippi14.4%
6Utah13.9%
7West Virginia12.9%
8New Mexico12.6%
9Oklahoma12.5%
10Montana10.3%
11Kentucky9.6%
12Idaho8.2%
13Virginia8.1%
14Washington, D.C.7.8%
15Maryland7.3%
16Arizona6.1%
16Colorado6.1%
16South Dakota6.1%
19Kansas6.0%
20Missouri5.9%
21South Carolina5.8%
21Washington5.8%
23Delaware5.7%
23Maine5.7%
25Minnesota5.3%
26Oregon5.0%
27Ohio4.5%
28Tennessee4.3%
29Connecticut4.0%
29Wisconsin4.0%
31Pennsylvania3.9%
32Georgia3.7%
33Florida3.5%
34Nevada3.4%
35Indiana3.3%
36Arkansas2.9%
37Iowa2.4%
37Wyoming2.4%
39New Jersey2.3%
40Nebraska1.9%
40North Carolina1.9%
42Illinois1.6%
43North Dakota1.4%
44Massachusetts0.2%
44Michigan0.2%
44Rhode Island0.2%
47New Hampshire0.1%
48New York-0.4%
49Alaska-1.3%
50Hawaii-1.7%
51Vermont-2.1%

Source: LendingTree analysis of FAFSA data reported by the Department of Education. Note: Data is from the first two quarters of each application cycle, covering October through December of the previous calendar year and January through March of the initial academic year.

Experts recommend filling out a FAFSA every year

Despite the overall two-year decline in FAFSA submissions, Kitchen says it’s important to fill out the FAFSA every year — as soon as possible.

“Some of the aid that you apply for via the FAFSA is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s always a good idea to fill yours out as soon as you can,” he says. “The application opens each year on Oct. 1 for aid in the following school year, and it can be worthwhile to get yours completed by the end of November or sooner. Also note that even if your family is relatively well-off, you might still qualify for some types of aid, so in that case, it’s almost always a good idea to fill out a FAFSA each year.”

In addition, due to the FAFSA Simplification Act (set to debut for the 2024-25 academic year), students will see a change in the methodology used to determine aid. For example, a student aid index (SAI) will replace the expected family contribution (EFC) — therefore, students should be prepared to see a difference in aid when the time comes.

Methodology

LendingTree researchers analyzed and aggregated Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data reported by the Department of Education to calculate changes in application pace between the forthcoming 2023-24 academic year and the same application periods for the 2022-23 and 2021-22 academic years.

Dependent, independent and total applicants at the state level were for the first quarter of each application cycle (October through December of the previous calendar year), while data from individual high school students was available through the second quarter (ending in March of the first calendar year). In this case, that covers October through December 2022 and October 2022 through March 23, respectively. Ultimately, FAFSA has a 21-month application cycle.

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