FAFSA statistics: what do you need to know about free application for federal student aid? 

1 min readLast updated February 29, 2024by Unbiased team

We unpack what you need to know about free application for federal student aid and explore a few important FAFSA statistics.

Highlights 

  • The free application for federal student aid assists millions of American students each year. 

  • Students from all backgrounds can fill out a FAFSA form to request financial assistance for further studies. 

  • 17.53 million students applied during the FAFSA 2021-22 application cycle. 

  • FAFSA updates have simplified the application process and encouraged more students to apply. 

What is the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA)? 

Created in 1992, the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) is the form that college students can fill out every year to receive federal or state financial aid.  

FAFSA has been updated numerous times in recent years. It includes a feature for securely retrieving tax information directly from the IRS, making for a much simpler process for approximately 4 million students and their families. 

 Grants, scholarships, and access to work-study programs that don’t require repayment (unlike student loans) are examples of the types of aid available through this initiative.  

FAFSA 2023 applications for the 2023-24 academic year opened on October 1, 2022, and closed on June 30, 2023. FAFSA 2024 applications for the 2024-25 academic year are expected to open on October 1, 2023.  

Gain a better understanding of the free application for federal student aid and the people who apply for it with the following FAFSA statistics. 

How many students apply for FAFSA? 

The number of students who use the free application for federal student aid differs from year to year, with marked increases and decreases in those numbers over the last 10 years. 

The following statistics from Statista and the US Department of Education offer a good overview of the number of applicants: 

  • 14.04 million students applied for FAFSA during the 2006-07 application cycle. 

  • 21.95 million students applied during the 2011-12 application cycle. 

  • 17.53 million students applied during the FAFSA 2021-22 application cycle. 

  • More than 3.1 million FAFSA 2024 forms have been submitted so far for the 2024-25 academic year. 

According to the US Department of Education, the new simplified FAFSA form will help 610,000 new students from low-income backgrounds benefit from Federal Pell Grants. An additional 1.5 million students receive the maximum Pell Grant. This means that more than 5.2 million students will be eligible to receive the maximum grant.  

Who applies for FAFSA? 

As you can see from the following statistics, the demographics of those who fill out a FAFSA are varied:  

  • According to Sallie Mae, one of the largest private student loan lenders nationwide, 70% of families submitted FAFSA forms for 2021-22. 

  • Approximately 20% of families who received financial aid through FAFSA appealed for more aid. 

  • 73% of the appeals for more aid were granted. 

  • 25% of families incorrectly think that FAFSA aid is exclusively reserved for low-income students. 

  • 47% of FAFSA applicants are first-generation college students, according to the US Department of Education. 

The FAFSA data below, drawn from the 2020-21 academic year, offers a clearer picture of applicant demographics:  

  • 63% of applicants are female students. 37% are male students. 

  • 47% are first-generation college students. 

  • 41% of applicants are aged 25 or older, and 11% are aged 18 or younger. 

  • 13% of FAFSA applicants are pursuing a graduate or professional degree. 

  • 24% of applicants have never attended college. 

  • 52% of applicants are independent students. 48% are considered dependent students.  

What did the FAFSA update look like? 

As mentioned above, FAFSA updates have been made several times since the free application for federal student aid was founded in 1992.  

Here are a few important points about the update: 

  • The FAFSA update allows students to skip up to 26 questions, with the potential to reduce the total further from 103 to 18, simplifying the process (US Department of Education). 

  • The US Department of Education released a FAFSA prototype, offering an advanced look at the user experience and featuring various scenarios applicants will encounter. 

The simplified FAFSA form is already making an impact by encouraging more students to apply for funding.  

The table below uses statistics from the US Department of Education to show state-by-state increases in the number of applications: 

StateIncrease in Number of Pell RecipientsIncrease in Number of Maximum Pell Recipients
Alabama 7,941 22,498
Alaska 1,045 2,103
Arizona 29,678 62,897
Arkansas 4,140 11,676
California 59,005 177,362
Colorado 14,128 25,465
Connecticut 5,053 14,951
Delaware 1,612 3,725
District of Columbia 2,468 6,957
Florida 44,810 113,245
Georgia 16,463 49,223
Hawaii 1,881 3,691
Idaho 4,669 9,159
Illinois 21,917 52,902
Indiana 14,175 30,249
Iowa 6,603 13,590
Kansas 6,222 14,018
Kentucky 8,160 18,400
Louisiana 6,770 19,362
Maine 2,579 5,092
Maryland 7,398 20,310
Massachusetts 12,221 25,441
Michigan 19,844 38,031
Minnesota 12,853 29,275
Mississippi 4,625 13,872
Missouri 10,919 24,540
Montana 1,462 3,497
Nebraska 5,685 10,172
Nevada 5,227 10,729
New Hampshire 12,391 24,089
New Jersey 8,802 30,453
New Mexico 3,525 7,370
New York 23,313 75,756
North Carolina 16,489 45,852
North Dakota 1,649 2,837
Ohio 22,567 45,927
Oklahoma 7,550 17,870
Oregon 7,209 15,001
Pennsylvania 18,899 41,774
Rhode Island 2,859 6,096
South Carolina 9,186 19,378
South Dakota 2,007 3,893
Tennessee 14,470 31,590
Texas 51,296 132,667
Utah 20,131 39,049
Vermont 1,292 2,295
Virginia 16,626 37,916
Washington 14,797 23,731
West Virginia 4,960 11,516
Wisconsin 9,993 20,663
Wyoming 832 2,117
Total 610,000 1,489,015

Get expert financial advice 

Since its inception, the free application for federal student aid has helped millions of Americans fulfill their dreams of studying further after graduating from high school.  

Thanks to recent FAFSA updates, the process of applying for aid is simpler and more streamlined, making it easier for those who need assistance to apply. That said, filling out a FAFSA form is no guarantee that you will receive aid.  

Unbiased matches you with a financial advisor for expert advice on achieving goals such as saving for further studies. With expert guidance, planning for the future becomes easier.  

Find a financial advisor now 

Writers

Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.