The First Lady is encouraging high school seniors and current college students to get their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The application, which covers a range of federal student aid programs as well as more than 600 in-state programs, asks for some basic information, including the applicant (or their parents') income and assets.
And Michelle Obama wants you to know it's easy to fill out and could be a crucial part of your college dreams.
"Completing this form is a critical start to completing your education," Obama said last week during an event promoting FAFSA. "It's the single most important thing you can do for your future ... Parents, don't leave money on the table. Fill out the form."
The First Lady joined non-profit Get Schooled, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and MTV parent company Viacom at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, last week to talk about the importance of completing the form when planning for college. She called it the first step toward finishing education beyond high school and working to achieve President Obama's "North Star" goal of America having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
"Only 60 percent of American high school seniors fill out a FAFSA form. Yet research shows that if a student completes a FAFSA, there is a 90 percent chance they will enroll in some college within 12 months," said Marie Groark, executive director of Get Schooled. "We believe that key to increasing the number of low-income students graduating from college is improving FAFSA completion rates — and it's free and easier than ever to complete and submit."
The U.S. Department of Education doles out nearly $150 billion every year to help students pay for college in the form of grants, low-interest loans and work-study funds. Many states and colleges also use FAFSA information to determine eligibility for state and school aid and some private financial aid providers may use the FAFSA data to determine if an applicant qualifies for their aid.
The Education Department estimates that more than one million high school seniors don't file the application, including many who would be eligible for Pell Grants, which do not have to be repaid. At the event, Duncan also noted that changes to the FAFSA form have cut the filing time down to less than a half hour, down from the hour it took to fill out the 2009-2010 form.
In an effort to show students how easy it is to fill out FAFSA, the First Lady, who has degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School, sat down with a number of them at T.C. Williams to discuss their college dreams.
Michele Obama, Get Schooled, Viacom and the Department of Education will continue their efforts to encourage FAFSA completion on Thursday by offering online support and tools to help students. A public service announcement about FAFSA featuring the First Lady will air across Viacom networks on the same day.