Mandatory: FAFSA required for high school seniors to graduate
Graduates of HISD's Lamar High School (2019). Photo by Aswad Walker.

If Texas high school seniors want to graduate, they have to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form before the Jan. 15 deadline.

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A federal study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics says there are several reasons why students don’t complete the FAFSA. Some families believe they can cover the costs without the federal aid, or that they wouldn’t qualify for financial aid, or have don’t know what is it and don’t know how to complete one.

The Texas Education Agency states that “only 40% of Texas’ 240,000 low-income eighth-graders enroll in college four years later; the other 60% (at an average Pell grant award of $4,010 per student per year) conservatively represents over $300 million per year per cohort of untapped federal resources available for their post-secondary education.”

In recent years, the federal government has worked to make changes to the form application process that will make it easier to navigate for families how’ve struggled to fill out the form. However, these steps aren’t enough. They want more students to qualify for aid and making the completion of the FAFSA form mandatory to graduate from high school the plan.

Across the Houston region and statewide, approximately 57% of the Class of 2021 completed the FAFSA last year and education institutions like YES Prep Public Schools are getting ahead of the looming deadline.

“With the rising cost of college tuition and living expenses, a student’s ability to afford college is a huge barrier,” said Roberto Treviño, managing director of college initiatives at YES Prep Public Schools and former university admissions officer in a official press release. “Colleges and universities use the FAFSA’s information to determine students’ eligibility for millions of dollars in loans, grants and scholarships available. The earlier a student applies, the better their chances of getting a better financial aid package.”

YES Prep’s efforts to support graduating seniors transition to the collegiate level focuses on five pillars.

  1. One on one advising for each student throughout the year.
  2. Seminar classes to prepare students for the college process.
  3. Career service opportunities for students seeking help during the academic year or summer season.
  4. College partnership program.
  5. Alumni program connecting with former students as a guide for their post-secondary career decisions.

Treviño says families are an integral part of the process. Many students are first generation college students or come from immigrant families whom hadn’t attended college. He says a major demographic that often missing in these conversations are undocumented student living in Texas who’ve lived and schooled in the state for three or more years.

“Undocumented students should fill out the TAFSA (Texas Application for Student Aid) to receive aid from the state of Texas. They aren’t qualified to receive aid from the federal government but they are eligible to receive some money from the state,” he said.

The steps for completing the FAFSA is available at

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...