9 facts about financial aid in Washington state

You’ve probably heard that the U.S. Department of Education recently rolled out a new FAFSA form that has fewer questions and should be easier for students and families to fill out.

The FAFSA – short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is the best path for students to receive financial aid to support virtually any college or career training program they pursue. Sometimes, students even find out they’ll have their entire tuition covered! But you won’t know what you qualify for if you don’t fill out the online form. And too many Washington state students aren’t completing that critical first step.

In fact, Washington state is 47th in the country in FAFSA completion. We know we can do better to support students in this process.

Here are nine things you should also know about financial aid in Washington state. Spoiler: there’s a lot of good news for our students.

1. Washington has one of the largest state financial aid programs

Washington state has something called the Washington College Grant – WA Grant for short – that is one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country. WA Grant gives eligible people money for a range of education programs such a certificates, job training, apprenticeships, and college.

For example, if your family of four makes $73,000 or less, your college or career training could be free!

Learn more about WA Grant, administered by the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC).

2. Students who can’t access federal aid have another option

In Washington, students have access to two different application options for financial aid:

  • Complete the FAFSA if you are a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  • Complete the WASFA (Washington Application for State Financial Aid) if you’re not eligible to complete the FAFSA due to immigration status, defaulted federal loans, or other issues with federal aid.

Students in Washington state only need to complete one of these options.

3. Financial aid can be used for much more than a four-year degree

In addition to four-year colleges, the WA Grant provides funding for qualified apprentices, career certificate programs, and two-year college degrees. So do other state and federal financial aid programs. The bottom line: you don’t need to attend a four-year university to access financial aid.

4. There are four different types of financial aid

Four different options – grants, scholarships, work study, and loans – help make college affordable. These can be combined and layered to get the support you need.

  1. Grants are income-based and available at a federal and state level. The WA Grant and federal Pell Grant fall into this category.
  2. Scholarships are merit- and income-based and come from public, private, and nonprofit sources. Go to theWashBoard.org to search for Washington state scholarships.
  3. Work Study is income-based. Qualifying students get an approved job, on- or off-campus, to support their education. Washington is one of a few states that offers state aid on top of Federal Work Study money.
  4. Loans are income-based and come from federal and private sources. This is the only type of aid that you’ll need to pay back. Make sure you explore all loan types, because they vary.

5. You don’t need to attend full-time to access financial aid

A lot of students need to work or take care of their family while attending school, and the WA Grant and other state and federal programs provide aid for part-time enrollment.

6. Aid programs are based on income, not grades

If a student and their family meet the income criteria for state and federal financial aid programs, the money is theirs. It’s that simple. Want to see how much you might be eligible for? Check out the state and federal financial aid calculators to understand what kind of package may be available. The two calculators are slightly different, so it is good to review both.

7. Too many students still aren’t taking advantage of financial aid

Last year, less than half of Washington’s eligible seniors filled out the FAFSA or WASFA. That means as much as $50 million in college grants and low-cost loans was left unclaimed by graduates in our state.

Young people have a lot of valid concerns about the cost of college. In fact, cost was cited as one of the biggest barriers in a Partnership for Learning report that asked 800 young adults in Washington who didn’t enroll in college this question. But we also have solutions. Applying for financial aid – and learning what’s available – can help young people begin to see how they can jump over this specific hurdle.

8. School districts can get help to raise awareness

If you work at a school or school district, WSAC’s 12th Year Campaign has free resources and training to help you organize financial aid advising events. Your help is invaluable, as seniors who complete a financial aid application are 84% more likely to enroll in postsecondary education—and the rate is even higher for students from lower‐income families.

9. The time to apply is now

The few early rollout glitches with the new FAFSA are on their way to being fixed, and now is the time to fill out the FAFSA or WASFA to find out what financial aid you qualify for!

(Note: For this school year only, the FAFSA was issued late as the Department of Education worked to simplify the form. In future years, the FAFSA and WASFA forms will be available on Oct. 1.)

In Washington state, the Gates Foundation is working to ensure that students have access to the opportunities they need to design the future they want. Nearly 90% of high school students say in surveys that they want to pursue some kind of career training or postsecondary program after high school. Helping connect these students with financial aid resources that can help them see a clear path to success after high school graduation is a critical first step.


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