Almost all incoming Rutgers students take advantage of FAFSA
Rutgers first-year students are generally more likely to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) than students at Universities nationwide or even in New Jersey.
While 55 percent of U.S. students did not fill out FAFSA in the 2014-2015 school year, roughly 90 to 95 percent of incoming Rutgers students do, said Jean McDonald-Rash, executive director of Financial Aid at Rutgers.
It is important for students to fill out FAFSA because unlike other forms of financial aid, the application is evaluated entirely on the basis of need, said McDonald-Rash.
This statistic is high because New Jersey secondary schools provide information on and hold financial aid workshops for students, McDonald-Rash said.
Wayne Yu, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said students should do everything in their power to obtain the greatest possible amount of financial aid, but that he understands why students might be hesitant to fill out to form.
Depending on how much financial aid students are offered in their first year, Yu said they may not choose to fill out FAFSA in the following years.
McDonald-Rash said another reason students might not fill out the form is concern that their income is too high for them to qualify for aid.
"It’s not that they are not going to get enough, they’re not going to get any because they’re not qualified for any," McDonald-Rash said.
In Yu's experience, applying for FAFSA was a confusing process. The form itself was complicated and extensive, he said.
“It took me an hour to make my account because they ask so many questions on there. It took me another hour with my parents to fill out the application and to find all my documents,” Yu said.
Yu said he believes most of the students that benefit from FAFSA are minorities.
But McDonald-Rash said FAFSA eligibility is strictly based on financial needs, rather than factors such as ethnicity or financial standing.
“I think that most families don’t understand how the estimated family contribution is arrived at. I think most families believe that the federal formula is going to be more favorable than it is. The issue that most families have is the estimated family contribution, which most families feel is higher than they can afford,” McDonald-Rash said.
She said Rutgers students receive a considerable amount of federal student aid.
"I can’t imagine that without that almost $750 million dollars in federal funding, that we would be enrolling as many students as we are able to enroll and help,” she said
Even with its extensive reach, she said there are ways FAFSA can be improved and information can be collected from students more efficiently. These are components of the process that Congress will look at when they re-authorize the Higher Education Act, she said.
“FAFSA is the only effective way we have of determining student aid eligibility and delivering aid to students,” McDonald-Rash said.
Samil Tabani is a Rutgers Business School first-year student. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.