Research in Higher Education

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 1–39 | Cite as

To Apply or Not to Apply: FAFSA Completion and Financial Aid Gaps

  • Michael S. KofoedEmail author


In the United States, college students must complete the Free Application for Student Federal Aid (FAFSA) to access federal aid. However, many eligible students do not apply and consequently forgo significant amounts of financial aid. If students have perfect information about aid eligibility, we would expect that all eligible students complete FAFSA and no aid would go unclaimed. Using data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, I estimate a multinomial logit model which controls for all variables that contribute to aid eligibility and other student characteristics that may deter FAFSA completion. I find that students who are lower middle income, white, male and independent from parents are less likely to complete FAFSA even when they are eligible for aid. Using propensity score matching, I find that each year applicants forgo $9,741.05 in total aid (including grant and loan aid) which includes $1,281.00 of Pell Grants, $2,439.50 of the balance subsidized student loans, $1,986.65 of the balance of unsubsidized student loans, and $1,016.04 of institutional grants. These aid totals aggregate to $24 billion annually.


Student financial aid FAFSA completion Economics of higher education Propensity score matching 

JEL Classification




I thank David Mustard, Christopher Cornwell, Ian Schmutte, Jonathan Williams, and Michael Walker for helpful comments and advice. This research benefited from a Summer Dissertation Fellowship sponsored by the Graduate School of the University of Georgia. I also appreciate the comments of seminar and conference participants at the University of Georgia, City University of New York, the Association of Education Finance and Policy, the Southern Economic Association, and the Midwestern Economic Association.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesUnited States Military AcademyWest PointUSA

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