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The high school class of 2017 missed out on $2.3 billion in free college aid

High School students in the class of 2015 in La Jolla, California.
Sandy Huffaker/Corbis | Getty Images
High School students in the class of 2015 in La Jolla, California.

Students have until June 30th to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as the FAFSA. Every year, the U.S. Department of Education gives over $120 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds to more than 13 million college students, making it the largest provider of student financial aid in the country.

But according to NerdWallet, the high school class of 2017 missed out on $2.3 billion worth of free college aid — money towards tuition that doesn't need to be repaid — simply by not filling out the form.

NerdWallet found that 49 percent of all high school graduates of the class of 2017 were eligible to receive a Pell Grant, which is provided by the federal government and does not have to be repaid.

However, only 36 percent filled out the FAFSA. By not completing the FAFSA, Pell-eligible graduates missed out on $3,583 on average. For the 2017-18 school year, Pell Grants can offer students up to $5,920 for college.

Tennessee had the lowest FAFSA completion rate among high school students, with only 17 percent of high school graduates completing the form last year.

The state with the highest percentage of students who completed the FAFSA last year was Utah, where 55 percent of students turned in the form. Alaska came in second, with 50 percent of high school graduates completing FAFSA last year.

Families who choose not to complete the FAFSA may not realize that most students who submit the form receive some kind of college aid.

"Aid is available for anyone with a household income below $250,000 a year," says Charlie Javice, founder & CEO of Frank, an online FAFSA platform.

"To students who don't think that FAFSA applies to them, wake up and smell the coffee. You should do it," he says. "It takes four minutes. You are probably going to get $10,000 to $30,000 worth of aid in your first year."

Karen McCarthy, director of policy analysis for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, tells CNBC, "The biggest mistake that people make is not filling out the FAFSA, or filling it out late."

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