Nearly 1 in 3 Parents Have Never Talked to Their Child About the FAFSA

Among those who aren’t planning to complete the FAFSA, the belief is they won’t qualify for federal aid

An annual survey from Discover Student Loans found 29% of parents have never talked to their child about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid® (FAFSA)i and another 22% have discussed it just once or twice. The FAFSA, which becomes available October 1st, is a free annual application offering families access to the largest source of financial aid to help pay for collegeii. For many, it’s the best way to access federal aid.

Given the lack of discussions families are having about the FAFSA, it’s no surprise that only 37% of families responded saying they are very familiar with the FAFSA and plan to complete it this year. The survey also found that 31% of parents who planned to complete the FAFSA still had not yet completed it in May 2021 – a month before its deadline in June.

“It’s understandable that families may feel anxious when it comes to paying for college. In fact, 30% of parents said applying for scholarships, grants, loans and other forms of financial aid is causing their child anxiety. When it comes to financing a college education, the earlier families can start saving and having those discussions, the better,” said Manny Chagas, vice president of Discover Student Loans. “The same goes for the FAFSA. Applying early can give families opportunities for federal, state and institutional aid like grants and scholarships as some schools award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis.”

Beyond a lack of discussion about the FAFSA among family members, Discover’s survey revealed myths and misconceptions that may be creating barriers to families filling out the FAFSA application, including:

  • Just 20% of parents know the FAFSA becomes available in October while slightly more than half (51%), think the FAFSA is available year-round. Both stats remain fairly unchanged over the last three years.
  • More than a third (36%) of parents, believe it takes 1 to 3 hours to complete the FAFSA. However, most families complete the FAFSA in less than an hour. iii
  • More than 4 in 10 (42%) families who do not plan to complete the FAFSA, say it’s because they don’t believe they’ll qualify for federal aid. In reality, 86% of first-time, full-time students at public 4-year colleges were granted aid. iv

To navigate the process of FAFSA filing, half of parents (50%) say they’ve taken advantage of online FAFSA guides and resources, while 29% report using materials sent from a child’s school and 28% cited high school guidance counselors as a resource.

For families looking for more resources, Discover Student Loans provides free tools and information to help plan and navigate their college financing journey. To start, the FAFSA assistant tool from Discover Student Loans is an interactive resource designed to help families prepare to fill out their FAFSA application. After answering a few questions, the tool provides personalized tips and considerations to help families get organized for the process. Families can also refer to the FAFSA Do’s and Don’ts as an additional resource – all found on the Discover Student Loans website that provides helpful content to students, parents and counselors. For families looking for a way to compare college costs, check out potential careers and earnings of college majors to help determine college Return on Investment, they can visit the award winning My College Plan tool.

For more information about Discover Student Loans, please visit


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a Dynata (formerly Research Now/SSI) survey conducted on behalf of Discover Financial Services. The survey was conducted online from May 10 – 15, 2021, with a total sample size of 1,000 U.S. parents of college bound students (ages 16 – 18). The margin of sampling error is ±2.53 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.

About Discover

Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS) is a digital banking and payment services company with one of the most recognized brands in U.S. financial services. Since its inception in 1986, the company has become one of the largest card issuers in the United States. The company issues the Discover card, America's cash rewards pioneer, and offers private student loans, personal loans, home loans, checking and savings accounts and certificates of deposit through its banking business. It operates the Discover Global Network comprised of Discover Network, with millions of merchant and cash access locations; PULSE, one of the nation's leading ATM/debit networks; and Diners Club International, a global payments network with acceptance around the world. For more information, visit

i FAFSA is a registered trademark of the U.S. Dept. of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.





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