Millions of College Students Are Making This Big Financial Mistake
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Millions of College Students Are Making This Big Financial Mistake

© Brian Snyder / Reuters

Despite the student loan crisis, about 20 percent of college students may be missing out on a key source of college funds. New data from the U.S. Department of Education finds that one in five undergraduate students did not apply for any student aid, and 10 percent applied only for private aid.

Among those who didn’t apply for aid, 44 percent thought that they were ineligible, making that the most common reason for skipping the application, followed by 43 percent who thought they could afford college without financial aid. Nearly a third of those surveyed said that they didn’t apply because they didn’t want to take on debt.

In addition to federal grants, the Federal Application for Student Aid is used to determine qualification for both student and parent federal loans, and institutions sometimes require it for eligibility for merit aid.

Related: 6 Ways to Boost Financial Aid for College

A NerdWallet analysis last winter found that about half of students who didn’t send in a FAFSA would be eligible for Pell grants, worth an average of $1,861.

Nearly 60 percent of students receive some sort of financial aid. The published cost of tuition and fees at a four-year public college was $9,410 in 2015-2016, according to the College Board, but the average net price after grants and scholarships was just $5,410. At private schools, the discount was even higher, with the average student paying just $15,000 on a published price of $32,410.

Among those who didn’t apply for financial aid, 13 percent said they didn’t know how, and 9 percent said it was too much work.