Frequently Asked Questions | Federal Student Aid

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the source of data?
The source of the data is the U.S. Department of Education's Central Processing System.

Is this the first time FAFSA submission and completion data have been available?
The effort by Federal Student Aid to make available to the public FAFSA submission and completion data aggregated by high school was launched in 2012. In 2013 Federal Student Aid also began releasing data for the previous cycle, reported side-by-side with school totals for the current cycle.

Only numbers of submitted and completed FAFSAs are available. No personally identifiable information for any FAFSA filer will be shared through this process. If you see data that is inaccurate and/or you have suggestions for improvement, please contact us at the mailbox below. We welcome your input.

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What is the difference between a submitted and a completed FAFSA?
Submitted applications reflect all FAFSAs submitted by students at that high school. These applications, however, can be subsequently rejected by the Central Processing System if they are missing key pieces of information. The applications that are not rejected are referred to as completed applications. Completed applications, therefore, are a subset of all submitted applications. If a FAFSA is submitted but not complete, the student will receive an e-mail from the Department of Education asking him or her to correct the FAFSA. A completed FAFSA is necessary to determine eligibility for federal and often other forms of financial aid.

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How often will the FAFSA submission data be updated?
From January through June, data releases are weekly starting on the last Friday in January.  For the remainder of the calendar year, data releases are monthly occurring on the last Friday of the month starting on the last Friday of July.

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Why isn't my high school listed in these data files?
There are two primary reasons that you may not see your school on the list.

    1. Your school will not appear on the report if there are fewer than 5 completed applications.
    2. Your school may appear on the report, but it may be listed under an alternative name. Since school names are inherently student-reported, the reported name can vary considerably. In aggregating the data, our standard practice is to report the school name that is most commonly reported by applicants. It is possible this name is different than your formal school name. As a result, it is important to look for other variations of your school name and city.

    You do not need to request to be added to the list. Once a high school shows at least five completed FAFSAs, their submission and completion totals will appear in the database.

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    I am a high school senior, and I cannot find my high school within the FAFSA's high school search results. What should I do?
    First, double-check your spelling of the city and school name, and then try your search again. Also consider alternate names or cities that may be used. Sometimes the official location of the school reported to us is a suburb within a larger city, or vice-versa. If after trying various possibilities you still cannot find your institution, you may still continue forward by clicking next. Despite being unable to find your school, the information you type in will still be captured and recorded, so be sure the spelling is correct.

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    I am a high school counselor, and I cannot find my high school within the FAFSA's high school search results. What could be causing this? How do I go about getting my school included?
    With a few exceptions (discussed below), most high schools should be contained in our database on the FAFSA. As suggested to students above, double-check the spelling and be sure to consider alternate names or cities that may be on file for the school. Sometimes the official location of the school reported to us is a suburb within a larger city, or vice-versa.

    For public schools, our database should contain every high school in the nation, unless the school was opened, merged, or otherwise changed its name within the past year or two. If you fit into one of these categories, your school may not be listed within the current FAFSA, but will be listed on future FAFSAs.

    For private schools, our database contains every high school that has participated in the U.S. Department of Education's Private School Survey. If your private school would like more information, then please click here. If your private school only recently participated in the survey, your school may not be listed within the current FAFSA, but will be listed on future FAFSAs.

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    Why do there appear to be duplicates of the same school?
    Since these school names are inherently student-reported, the reported name can vary considerably. In aggregating the data, our standard practice is to report the school name that is most commonly reported by applicants.

    However, when we are unable to determine if school name variations are referring to the same school, we err on the side of caution and do not aggregate the data to a single record and applicant count. In that instance, it may appear that there are duplicates of the same school. If you believe your school has been listed more than once, please report it to us at HSFAFSA@ed.gov.

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    Why is my number of FAFSA submissions or completions lower than I think it should be?
    While we know that many high schools inadvertently overestimate their FAFSA completion rates, one reason your rates may be lower than expected is because your school could be listed more than once. This happens if students entered your school name in different ways on the FAFSA. For instance, if some students listed "John Doe High School" and other students listed "Doe High School" then your high school could be listed in more than one place. Please look for alternate names for your school. If you find your school has been listed more than once, please report them to us at HSFAFSA@ed.gov.

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    I am a high school counselor or college access professional. What resources do you have to help increase FAFSA completion totals?
    Federal Student Aid recently launched a Financial Aid Toolkit to provide federal student aid information and outreach tools for counselors, college access professionals, nonprofit mentors, and others. The site helps counselors understand the basics of federal student aid, provides tips on hosting events (along with sample PowerPoint presentations), provides suggested messages for social media and email outreach, and helps find other training opportunities.

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    I am a counselor at a high school with a lot of students age 19 or older. Why are my numbers so low?
    Because there is no question on the FAFSA that asks if an applicant is a high school senior, we must use several criteria to identify those applicants that are likely high school seniors. In this instance, the bulk of the students would likely not satisfy the age criteria requiring applicants to be less than 19 years of age. Also, students must also be receiving their high school diploma, as opposed to a GED or other program, to fit this definition of a high school senior.

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    The totals reported last year are different from the numbers reported now about last year. What is causing this?
    There could be several causes for this, including the possibility that your institution is listed more than once in the data using alternate variations of the school's name or city. One other cause is a change we made this year to our definition of a high school senior, which now aligns with other data we publicly release. In past years, we used proxies to determine whether an applicant was a first-time filer; we now use true first-time filer status as one criterion for being a senior. While this impacts a relatively small number of applicants, if your total decreased compared to what we reported last year, then this may mean there were applicants that had applied in a previous year.

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    Can I add up all the submitted applications from a single state file to calculate a state total? What about adding up all the submitted applications from a single city?
    The answer to both questions is no. The official location of a school (or the location most commonly reported by students) may actually be a suburb falling within a larger city's limits. For example, adding up all the applications reported under "New York City" would exclude any institutions reported being within "Queens" or even within "Jamaica," a smaller neighborhood within the New York City Borough of Queens.

    Any analysis must also consider the impact of withholding the totals or names of schools with fewer than five completed applications. At its most basic level, summing the number of applications reported in these files always underestimates the number of applications. If an institution is reported as having "<5" completed applications, one cannot assume there were zero applications. Further, the totals for some schools are never made public because their class sizes essentially preclude them from having enough completed applications to ever be disclosed publicly. Because this impacts some areas more than others, be sure to consider these and other factors when conducting any analyses.

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    Return to the FAFSA Completion by High School webpage.