New state policy requires high school seniors to apply for FAFSA

By The California Student Aid Commission

In California’s 2021–22 state budget, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature included a groundbreaking new policy that local educational agencies, including charter schools, must confirm that their graduating high school seniors complete an application for financial aid (or an opt-out waiver) starting in the 2022–23 academic year. Now, as we begin to implement this new approach, there is an immense opportunity for California to expand access to financial aid to thousands of students to empower them in making decisions about their lives after they graduate and whether to pursue college or career training.

This year’s financial aid cycle runs from Oct. 2, 2022, to March 2, 2023, and California’s education community has the opportunity to work together to take advantage of this key initiative to dramatically increase the number of high school seniors who apply for financial aid. At the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), we refer to this as the “All In for FAFSA/CA Dream Act!”

Over the course of the pandemic, fewer and fewer students filled out the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) and the California Dream Act Application (CADAA). In the 2021–22 financial aid cycle, only 53 percent of California’s graduating high school seniors completed one of these applications. Additionally, in January 2022, the National College Attainment Network  reported that $3.75 billion in Pell Grants went unused for the high school class of 2021, due simply to students not applying for aid. California left the largest pot of money on the table at over $561 million in unutilized dollars. With California’s All In for FAFSA/ CA Dream Act application initiative, we can help more students tap into these dollars. Without adequate financial aid resources, students look to loans and credit cards or may not even consider pursuing higher education or career training altogether.

“No student should be denied the opportunity to go to pursue a college education because they thought they could not afford it and did not know about financial aid,” said CSAC Executive Director Marlene Garcia. “We can increase college access by making it easy to for students to apply for financial aid, and in doing so, we can make postsecondary education and career training a reality for thousands more students.”

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for California,” said Catalina Cifuentes, CSAC chair and executive director of College & Career Readiness at the Riverside County Office of Education. “I work with hundreds of kids every day, and many do not know of the financial aid resources that are available to them. This is especially true for first-generation and low-income students who are not always aware of the opportunities out there. By having a local school board adopt a board resolution supporting the All in Campaign, our students and their parents become aware that by completing a financial aid application, they can potentially have access to all the grants and ‘free money’ available to them for college or career training.”

LEAs can now empower students by educating them on available financial aid resources. Prior to implementing a similar financial aid completion policy, Louisiana ranked below the national average for FAFSA completion. Now, Louisiana ranks first nationally in FAFSA completion, according to the NCAN FAFSA Tracker. The completion of a financial aid application is imperative to the success of our students because of how significantly it can impact college enrollment: 92 percent of high school seniors who completed the FAFSA enrolled in a college or university, while only 51 percent of their peers who did not complete a FAFSA ultimately enrolled.

College degrees and career technical training serve as gateways to upward mobility for thousands of students and families every year. By investing in efforts to increase financial aid application completions, we are investing in our students’ futures and in the future of California. Together, we can make sure more students step into this gateway to opportunity as we help them prepare to navigate their next steps after high school graduation.

To learn more information about the All in for FAFSA/ CA Dream Act Application initiative, visit

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