Questions and Answers About FAFSA® Completion Data

Questions and Answers About FAFSA® Completion Data

Below are questions we’ve heard about the data we provide on FAFSA completion by high school.

Basics

What is the source of data?
What years of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) submission and completion data are available?
What is the difference between a submitted and a completed FAFSA® form?
How often will the FAFSA® submission data be updated?

Missing or Duplicate High Schools

Why isn't my high school listed in these data files?
I cannot find my high school within the FAFSA® form's high school search results. What could be causing this? How do I go about getting my school included?
Why do there appear to be duplicates of the same school?

Low Completion Totals

Why is my number of FAFSA® submissions or completions lower than I think it should be?
I am a high school counselor or college access professional. What resources do you have to help increase FAFSA® completion totals?
I am a counselor at a high school with a lot of students age 20 or older. Why are my numbers so low?

Technical and Analytical

The totals reported last year are different from the numbers reported now about last year. What is causing this?
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?
Why do some districts appear in white on the maps?


Basics
 

What is the source of data?

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

What years of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) submission and completion data are available?

Federal Student Aid releases data for the current 2018–19 cycle and provides a side-by-side comparison of the previous 2017–18 cycle. We also have an archive that contains data files from the 2017–18 cycle comparing it to the past 2016–17 cycle. Each file has the previous cycle data through the same date in the prior year as well as the 6-month and 12-month numbers for the previous cycle.

Only numbers of submitted and completed FAFSA forms are available. No personally identifiable information for any FAFSA filer will be shared through this process. Email us at HSFAFSA@ed.gov if you see data that is inaccurate and/or you have suggestions for improvement. We welcome your input.

What is the difference between a submitted and a completed FAFSA® form?

Submitted applications reflect all FAFSA forms 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 form is submitted but not complete, the student will receive an email from the Department of Education asking him or her to correct the FAFSA form. A completed FAFSA form is necessary to determine eligibility for federal student aid and often other forms of financial aid.

How often will the FAFSA® submission data be updated?

From October through June, data releases are weekly. For the remainder of the calendar year, data releases occur every other Friday. (For high schools to track their progress, Federal Student Aid regularly updates estimates for the first 12 months of an application cycle. As of the 2017–18 FAFSA cycle, this is extended to the first 15 months of the application cycle and will cover October of one year through December of the following year.)

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Missing or Duplicate High Schools
 

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 five 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 FAFSA forms, their submission and completion totals will appear in the database.

I cannot find my high school within the FAFSA® form'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 form. If you can’t find your school, 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.

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 form, but will be listed on future FAFSA forms.

For private schools, our database contains every high school that has participated in the U.S. Department of Education's Private School Survey. Visit the National Center for Education Statistics if your private school would like more information. If your private school only recently participated in the survey, your school may not be listed within the current FAFSA form, but will be listed on future FAFSA forms.

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. Email us at HSFAFSA@ed.gov if you believe your school has been listed more than once.

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Low Completion Totals
 

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 form. 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. Email us at HSFAFSA@ed.gov if you find your school has been listed more than once.

I am a high school counselor or college access professional. What resources do you have to help increase FAFSA® completion totals?

Federal Student Aid’s Financial Aid Toolkit provides 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.

I am a counselor at a high school with a lot of students age 20 or older. Why are my numbers so low?

Because there is no question on the FAFSA form 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 20 years of age at the cutoff date. 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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Technical and Analytical
 

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 in 2017 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.

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.

Why do some districts appear in white on the maps?

Districts are listed as missing/insufficient data if any of the following conditions are true:

  • The regulatory adjusted cohort graduation rate is missing (e.g., if districts merged or a new district was created after 2009–10).
  • A district has fewer than 15 students in the regulatory adjusted cohort graduation rate data.
  • There’s an unpredicted increase in the number of district graduating seniors (e.g., a dramatic increase in the graduation rate, or if two districts merge under one district's name).
  • A district has fewer than 10 projected graduates.
  • A district has fewer than five completed FAFSA forms.
  • The National Center Education Statistics’ Local Education Agency (LEA) code does not match the LEA code found in the Tiger/Line shapefile for the state.

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