Perhaps you’ve heard about the more than $6.6 billion dollars in scholarship aid that went unclaimed last year. Sounds unbelievable, right? Then you won’t be shocked when I tell you that it isn’t true.
This 40-year-old myth is based on a 1976-77 academic year study by the National Institute of Work and Learning, which estimated that $7 billion in employer tuition assistance (not scholarships) was potentially available from employers for employees, but only about $300 to $400 million was being used each year.
Misleading? Yup. Outdated? You bet.
In reality, almost all scholarships for college have more applicants than available funds. The few college scholarships that do go unclaimed can’t be claimed because of restrictive selection criteria. For example, the Zolp scholarship is available only for students at Loyola University of Chicago born with the last name of Zolp. The name must appear on their birth certificate, and no, you can’t change your name to qualify.
There is one form of financial aid that does go unclaimed, and that’s the Federal Pell Grant. According to Edvisors, about three million students in 2013-14 who did not file the FAFSA would have qualified for a Federal Pell Grant. That’s just a few years ago! With college often taking more than four years, many of those students who didn’t file are likely still in school.
Of them, 1.3 million would have qualified for the maximum Federal Pell Grant. Qualified students could have received a maximum amount of $5,645 in Pell Grant awards in the 2013-2014 application cycle. How much money will be left on the table in 2018?
In a NerdWallet analysis, the number of Pell-eligible graduates who didn’t complete the FAFSA totaled 821,041 students nationwide. (In California alone, more than 100,000 seniors did not file their FAFSA and, as a result, missed out on $396,401,205 in potential Federal Pell Grant aid). No matter what scholarships you might receive, filling out the FAFSA annually should be at the top of your priority list. Remember: you can’t get student aid and college scholarships if you don’t apply, so be sure to check out: