fafsaLast year 38 percent of graduating Hoosier high school graduates missed out on as much as $44 million in free federal grant money, according to a new analysis from financial website NerdWallet. This money went unclaimed primarily because of incomplete or unsubmitted Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms.

This Friday, March 10th, is the deadline in Indiana to apply for state aid using the FAFSA. Filing after March 10th may make students eligible for federal financial aid programs like low interest loans and Pell Grants but, Indiana students lose access to all state aid.

“The deadline is truly important. It’s crucial for Indiana high school seniors and anyone, of any age, who plans on going to college in the next year,” said Eric Wignall, vice president for enrollment management at Ancilla College.

“According to studies like the one from NerdWallet, in 2014, over a million US high school graduates didn’t fill out a FAFSA application. Of those, the data suggest 747,579 of them would have been Pell eligible. That’s free federal support to go to college anywhere,” Wignall said.

“It’s a free online form. It cannot harm your access to financial aid, it only helps you qualify for aid. If you don’t fill it out this week, you will miss out on Indiana financial aid like grants for 21st Century Scholars,” he said.

It is not limited to new high school graduates. Hoosier veterans and their families who can qualify for veteran’s benefits may also qualify for state financial aid. “Some parents don’t want to fill it out because think they’re not eligible for financial aid, but there’s no income cutoff to apply for federal student aid. The FAFSA this year (2017) pulls data from your 2015 tax returns to create an estimate of expected family contribution for the student or students who live in the household.”

“Even for a family with a high income, and no direct need-based aid, the FAFSA data goes to colleges and we use it to create financial aid files,” Wignall explained. “The FAFSA is where we start for student-athletes, students with academic scholarships, transfer students from other schools, everybody.”

“Parents may want to know what specific income is required in order to qualify for financial aid, and there is no single number because of the different variables that determine expected family contribution,” he said.

Graduating high school seniors need to go to FAFSA.ed.gov to create a username and password (using an email address that is different from their parent). One parent, or guardian, in the household also needs to create a username and password as well. This can take 24 hours to return so Wignall advises not waiting. “It takes a while to get the username and passwords set up so don’t wait to the absolute last minute. The form itself only takes 30 minutes or so to complete.”

Missing the deadline can mean thousands of dollars in aid lost.

“It’s so crushing. Every year we talk with students about financial aid and they tell us they didn’t file on time. After the calculations we learn just how much they missed out on,” he said. Without a FAFSA filed in Indiana before March 10th (midnight EST) you will not be able to qualify for need-based state aid. You also miss out on some merit-based aid. The FAFSA needs to be completed each year you plan to attend college.